Q. My wife and I are newlyweds. We are looking into family insurance plans and are curious about maternity coverage, rates and any limitations. I'm seeing a lot of companies don't cover maternity benefits or impose 6-month restrictions. It seems really complicated and not helpful, to say the least. Any information you can provide will help.
A. This is one of the problems that the health law was designed to address.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires companies with 15 or more workers that offer health insurance to provide maternity coverage for workers and their spouses. But the law doesn't apply to plans sold on the individual market.
Only 12 percent of those individual plans provide maternity coverage, according to an analysis published last year by the National Women's Law Center. Plans that do cover maternity services may have a separate deductible of up to $10,000 and impose a waiting period of up to a year before members can use the services, the study found.
All that will change next year. Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires all new individual and small group health plans to cover 10 "essential health benefits," and maternity and newborn care is one of them.
Insurers can't impose waiting periods for maternity coverage nor charge women higher rates than men as typically occurs now.
If you buy a plan on the individual market now, chances are you'll pay extra for maternity coverage, if you can find it at all. But even if you buy a plan now, there’s nothing to stop you from shopping for a plan that meets the new maternity coverage requirements when your state's health insurance marketplace launches in October. Your new coverage could begin in January, says Carrie McLean, director of customer care at online vendor ehealthinsurance.com.
If you and your wife do become pregnant before year's end, you may benefit from another provision of the Affordable Care Act. Under current law, insurers on the individual market typically consider pregnancy to be a pre-existing medical condition and refuse to issue policies to people who are pregnant.
Starting in January, "Nobody can ask them if they’re pregnant and then deny them coverage," says Judy Waxman, NWLC’s vice president for health and reproductive rights.
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