WASHINGTON, D.C. – In advance of the Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment period starting next week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will introduce legislation that would increase access to prenatal and maternity care. Brown’s bill, the Healthy Maternity and Obstetric Medicine Act (Healthy MOM Act) would create a special enrollment period (SEP) so pregnant individuals can enroll in or change their healthcare plans once they become pregnant.

“Women don’t time their pregnancies around arbitrary insurance open-enrollment periods,” Brown said. “These deadlines should not keep Ohio mothers-to-be from getting the care they need. That’s why I’m introducing the Healthy MOM Act – to ensure all women can access affordable health coverage during their pregnancy. This bill is commonsense. We should be doing everything we can to ensure Ohio’s mothers and mothers-to-be receive the care that they need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy infants.”

“Early prenatal care is critical to achieving healthy outcomes for pregnant women and their babies,” said Jennifer Bailit, MD, MPH, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at MetroHealth Medical Center, who joined Brown on a conference call today. “Without early prenatal care we cannot adequately fight the unacceptably high levels of prematurity and infant mortality effecting the United States.”

Individuals who become pregnant during the Health Insurance Marketplace’s open enrollment period – which begins on Nov. 1, 2015 – can change or update their plans or enroll in a new plan, but an individual who becomes pregnant outside that period cannot because pregnancy is not considered a “qualifying life event.” Some major life changes – like getting married, giving birth, or adopting a child – are considered “qualifying life events” that make individuals eligible for an SEP, when they can enroll in or change their health care plans through HealthCare.gov. Because pregnancy is not currently classified as a “qualifying life event” under current law, some mothers who become pregnant and are unable to change their insurance status may forgo critical prenatal care or pay significant out-of-pocket medical costs – risking the health and safety of both mother and baby.

The Healthy MOM Act would address this coverage gap by creating an SEP for pregnant women, ensuring mothers have access to the health care options that best fit their maternity and prenatal needs. Specifically, the Healthy MOM Act would:

  • Create an SEP in the Health Insurance Marketplace for pregnant individuals so that they can enroll in or change their healthcare plan;
  • Enable the Director of the Office of Personnel Management to establish an SEP for pregnancy for those eligible to receive coverage, but who do not currently receive coverage, through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program;
  • Ensure comprehensive coverage of maternity care – including labor and delivery – for dependent children covered by group health plans and other forms of employer-sponsored coverage; and
  • Protect existing income eligibility levels for pregnant women and infants covered by Medicaid.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), more than one million babies are born to mothers that did not receive adequate prenatal care each year. Although Ohio’s infant mortality rate has decreased over the past year, the state’s rate is currently 21 percent above the national average and even worse for African American infants, who are 2.2 times more likely to die before their first birthday in Ohio than white babies. Nationwide, maternal mortality rates are three to four times higher for mothers who do not receive prenatal care compared with mothers who do, and babies of mothers who do not receive prenatal care are five times more likely to die and three times as likely to be born prematurely compared with mothers who receive adequate care.

Brown’s legislation will be cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA). The Healthy MOM Act is endorsed by the following organizations: American College of Nurse-Midwives; American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; EverThrive Illinois; Families USA; March of Dimes; NARAL Pro Choice Oregon; National Health Law Program; National Patient Advocate Foundation; National Women’s Law Center; Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform; MomsRising; Ohio Hospital Association; Ohio MetroHealth System; Ohio Public Health Association; and Young Invincibles.

Brown has been working to improve health care options for mothers and babies and address Ohio’s too-high infant mortality rate. Last year, his landmark legislation to battle back against the rise in infant mortality was signed into law by President Obama. The Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act will build on existing activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve upon the quality and consistency of data collected during death scene investigations and autopsies to better inform prevention and intervention efforts related to stillbirths, Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), and Sudden Unexplained Deaths in Childhood (SUDC). This collaboration with the states to enhance current methods of data collection across existing surveillance systems will enable doctors and researchers to better track and prevent these tragic losses.