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3/4/2022 Statement from Sen. Valverde, Rep. Cassar regarding legislation to cover all pregnancies and recent CDC report on rising maternal mortality rates
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, West Greenwich) and Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence), sponsors of a package of legislation to provide medical coverage to all pregnancies, today issued the following statement:

“Pregnancy is a major health event that comes with inherent health risks. People have the best chance of having positive health outcomes during pregnancy when they have access to timely, high-quality health care. That’s why it is imperative that all pregnant Rhode Islanders have comprehensive health coverage.

Maternal mortality has been on the rise in the United States over the past two decades. Last week the CDC released a study showing that between 2018 and 2020, the maternal mortality rate increased every year, reaching a new high during the first year of the pandemic. Research shows that maternal deaths can be prevented with improved access to quality health care. This most current research shows that our state must take action now to reduce poor pregnancy-related health outcomes.

We believe that every pregnancy in Rhode Island should be covered by health insurance. When someone becomes pregnant, they deserve access to early and adequate prenatal care that will give them the best shot at a healthy pregnancy and birth. And if a person feels it is not the right time or circumstance to carry that pregnancy, they should have the coverage they need to get an abortion without delay, judgment or financial hardship.

The package of bills that we have proposed, H7442/S2549, H7443/S2502 and H7454/S2548, are the best actions our state can take right now to reduce the risks associated with pregnancy by assuring that all pregnant people have access to the full range of reproductive health care. 

Pregnancy, labor, and childbirth can come with complications, especially for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Death related to childbirth is particularly acute for young women, low-income women and women of color. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. 

Without health insurance coverage during pregnancy, there is limited access to health care and higher risk of poor maternal and infant health outcomes. 

Right now in Rhode Island, there are thousands of Rhode Islanders who lack coverage for care while they are pregnant.

First, individuals covered by state health insurance plans and Medicaid are prohibited from using their plans to cover abortion. With these abortion bans in place, people who are unable to afford the out-of-pocket costs for care are forced to delay care or go without it entirely. This endangers their health and well-being.

Second, uninsured pregnant people who earn more than 253% of the federal poverty level ($34,382 for a single person) are not eligible for health coverage through Rhode Island’s Medicaid program. That leaves a gap of pregnant people who make too much to receive Medicaid coverage, but may not have access to pregnancy-related health care if they do not have employer-based coverage and are unable to afford a private plan.

Third, if a person is uninsured and becomes pregnant, they may be blocked from getting health coverage if it’s outside of the annual open enrollment period for private insurance. There is no special enrollment period for private health plans for pregnancy, as enrollment only occurs annually unless there is a “qualifying event.” While birth is considered a qualifying event, pregnancy, at this time, is not. This leaves pregnant people without access to health care services if they do not qualify for public insurance and do not have access to an employer-sponsored insurance plan.  

For these reasons, we have introduced a package of three bills that will address these gaps in coverage and make sure that in Rhode Island, all pregnancies are covered by insurance.

  • H7442/S2549 - Equality in Abortion Coverage Act - Assures that individuals on Medicaid and state health insurance plans have coverage for abortion procedures.
  • H7443/S2502 - Increases Medicaid coverage eligibility for pregnant persons from 253% of the federal poverty level to 400% of the federal poverty level (equivalent to making $54,360 in 2022).
  • H7454/S2548 - Establishes a special enrollment period (SEP) for pregnant people to obtain health coverage through the state health insurance exchange at any time during their pregnancy instead of having to wait for the annual open enrollment period.
As President Biden said in his State of the Union address this week, if we want to move forward, not backward, we must advance maternal health care and preserve reproductive freedom. 
Rhode Island has the chance to lead the way on this critical public health issue by becoming the first state that assures comprehensive health coverage for all pregnant people.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923