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Monday, July 19, 2010

Healthier moms, healthier babies

For a lot of women, being pregnant is an exciting time filled with anticipation, baby showers, and nursery decorations. But for lower-income women who don’t have access to affordable health care, pregnancy—and the health complications that sometimes come with it—can be downright scary.

According to a new report by Families USA, “many low-income women face barriers to getting the health care they need.” And shockingly,

Each year, approximately 70,000 women go without any form of prenatal care. These women are more than three and one-half times as likely to have a low birth weight baby—one of the leading causes of infant mortality—and nearly three times as likely to give birth prematurely as other pregnant women.

Although pregnant women with very low incomes (up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level) are eligible for Medicaid, low-income, uninsured pregnant women who make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid are often out of luck, even though their child will be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP after they are born.

States had an array of options to expand coverage to these women in the past, but they were administratively cumbersome and did not always cover the full spectrum of health care services that these women need. The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) provides states with a new option to provide comprehensive health coverage through CHIP to low-income pregnant women who are uninsured but earn too much money to be eligible for Medicaid.

Providing CHIP coverage to low-income pregnant women could solve an important problem for families that earn too much for Medicaid but who are unable to afford private insurance that includes maternity coverage. While health reform will help address this issue as well, the new coverage that was included in the health reform law will not be in place in most states until 2014. The CHIPRA provision that expands coverage for pregnant women gives states an option that they can implement now.

The CHIPRA option is not only easier to administer than the previous system, it provides women with more comprehensive prenatal and postnatal coverage. And studies show that providing health coverage to pregnant women increases their access to prenatal care, which improves women’s health, helps families deliver healthier babies, and reduces future health care costs that are associated with poor prenatal care. By covering mothers during their pregnancy and for a period of time after giving birth, the new option will reduce the cost of medical care for newborns enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, and it will save states money.

Healthier moms, newborns, and state budgets… What more could we ask for?