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Opinion: Investing in the future — before it’s born

A growing body of evidence now confirms what experts, advocates and, most notably, parents, have known for some time – access to healthcare during those fragile, crucial months of pregnancy and childbirth is essential to ensuring the health of not only our future Californians, but the future of the state of California itself.

In a September, 2010, Time Magazine article entitled “How the First Nine Months Shape the Rest of Your Life,” author Annie Murphy Paul described the latest findings in the burgeoning field of “fetal origins” research: “[T]he nine months of gestation constitute the most consequential period of our lives, permanently influencing the wiring of the brain and the functioning of organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas… In the literature on the subject, which has exploded over the past 10 years, you can find references to the fetal origins of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, mental illness — even of conditions associated with old age like arthritis, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.”

Whether it’s congestion-free highways, clean air, safe schools or healthy children, securing the long-term prosperity of our golden state means investing in our future.  Again, with growing evidence of the increasing correlation between healthy fetal environments and lifelong adult health, what better way could Californians invest in their future than nurturing future Californians while they’re still in the womb?  

Accordingly, two pieces of legislation have been passed and sent to the Governor that would improve and expand maternity health care coverage in California. Authored by State Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Senate Bill 222 ensures equitable maternity coverage in California by requiring insurance companies to provide maternity coverage as part of their individual health insurance policies.  SB 222 would put an end to the money-saving tactics of insurance companies that simply pencil out maternity coverage from their health care plans, resulting in fewer coverage options and increased coverage costs for new mothers and mothers-to-be. The companion measure – Senate Bill 299 – ensures California women do not lose their employer-provided health insurance coverage while on maternity leave, allowing new mothers to adequately care for their newborn, with consistent access to critical medical care.

Women’s health hotlines and organizations receive countless phone calls from despondent mothers and mothers-to-be, who are confronting a sudden reduction in maternity health coverage, or who are suddenly realizing – at the worst possible moment – that maternity coverage has been written out of their health plan altogether.  

Their shock mirrors the statistical reality when it comes to measuring coverage for pregnant mothers: According to the California Health Benefits Review Program, in 2004 82% of consumers’ individual insurance policies included maternity coverage, but as of 2010 coverage had declined to only 12%. This decline occurred because some insurance companies, in response to laws requiring the industry to prohibit discriminatory practices in coverage and co-pays for maternity care, decided to stop offering maternity coverage to individual policyholders ALTOGETHER…with other insurers then following suit. 

Thanks to the efforts of Senator Evans and others who recognize this issue as a priority, Senate Bills 222 and 299 will remedy many of these women’s concerns in a way that saves the state money, and ensures no mother or mother-to-be needs to go without maternity care or coverage.  The vital way these bills balance the scales for California women is perhaps indicative of why both measures have received bi-partisan support as they moved through the legislative process and onto the Governor’s desk.

It is my hope that Governor Brown also recognizes this legislative package as the genuine investment in the future that it is.  Adequate healthcare for mothers and their children is truly the first step to a brighter destiny for California.  After all, the first step is the most important. 


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