Every day, more than 16,000 women learn they’re pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association. More than 1,100 of those women have no health insurance. That simple fact can turn good news into bad as The Institutes of Medicine reports, uninsured women tend to get less health care before delivery and often have a hard time finding the care they need.
Health insurance pays a significant portion of pregnancy and delivery costs, which can range from $5,000 to more than $20,000. In addition, insured women have easier access to important counseling, testing and exams. Lack of health care for pregnant women may lead to lower birth weights and a higher risk of health problems for newborns.
If your employer offers health insurance, you may be able to enroll during Open Enrollment. Federal law prevents group health plans from treating pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. If you start to work for a new employer, you may be able to enroll in the company’s insurance benefits immediately. If you recently lost your job or your health insurance, consider COBRA coverage. You can extend your previous health coverage for 18 months. Expect to pay a lot more in premiums, but the expense will be less than prenatal care and delivery. Check with your employer or former health insurer on your eligibility. If you can afford the premiums, consider individual health insurance. Make sure the plan covers pregnancy care and does not consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition (individual insurance plans are not covered by the law governing group health plans).
Low-income women may qualify for Medicaid coverage through the federal government. Medicaid covers prenatal care and the cost of delivery. In some states, women who don’t qualify for Medicaid may turn to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) for similar benefits. Check with your state department of insurance to see if the SCHIP program covers expectant mothers.
Some private companies offer discount health plans to women with little or no health insurance. These plans pay some of the costs of prenatal care and delivery costs. Generally, women in these plans need to use providers approved by the company. Women who consider this option need to research the plan’s offerings. Find out which services are covered and how much of the cost will be paid.
Some city and state departments of health offer low- or no-cost programs for pregnant women. These programs may provide some of the prenatal testing and counseling needed. Private social service charities may offer similar programs. Check with your local department of health or neighborhood church for advice on finding a program.
Health care providers understand the importance of medical care during pregnancy. Some may offer discounts or payment plans to pregnant women without insurance. Also, some lower-cost options may be available, including birthing services and midwife agencies. Your health care adviser or local department of health can direct you to such services.