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Governor Schwarzenegger holds the power to improve access to maternity care coverage for all women in his state and ensure equitable coverage for children with pre-existing conditions. Last week, the California Legislature passed two bills which will significantly impact the health and lives of women and children. From

The bills approved Wednesday would phase in coverage before they are replaced by the new federal health care law in 2014.

The first bill, AB1825, would require maternity coverage in basic plans sold on the individual market. The federal government already requires coverage by employers, and state law requires coverage by HMOs, but residents who buy their own insurance currently don't get the same coverage.

The second bill, AB2244, would prohibit insurers from refusing coverage to children simply because they have a pre-existing medical condition.

Maternity care, as defined by the bill, includes "prenatal care, ambulatory care maternity services, involuntary complications of pregnancy, neonatal care, and inpatient hospital maternity care, including labor and delivery and postpartum care."

As the California Progress Report notes, this mandate will go a long way towards not only ensuring equity of coverage options for women on the individual and group markets, but will relieve financial strain on the state's public health programs, and "crucially provides the public health benefit of getting babies the prenatal and early care coverage needed to live healthy and productive lives."

Six years ago, 82 percent of health plans in the individual market, in California, offered maternity coverage. Now? Only nineteen percent of plans offer the coverage.

The second bill not only mimics federal health reform by barring insurance carriers from denying coverage to children based on a pre-existing health condition but also limits the amount insurers can charge to cover those children.

Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed the bill twice already, over the last two years, and seems unlikely to sign this most recent proposal. But, as the Ms. Magazine blog reports,

In an effort to get the governor’s support, “There’s been some discussion about inserting an exclusionary period during which time pregnancy is not covered,” said McGovern [Beth McGovern is the legislative director for the California Commission on the Status of Women]. This is similar to other exclusions for pre-existing conditions and may be offered in the Senate. This isn’t an ideal solution but  would offer women some coverage.

It’s up to the small-business-friendly governor. He’s just made a cameo appearance in Sylvester Stallone’s new action film, The Expendables, playing a mercenary named “Trench” who’s hired as part of a hit squad. Before he leaves state government, he should prove he hasn’t been bought and paid for by the health-insurance industry to become one of their hit men, bent on proving that women are expendable. He needs to make women’s health a priority before he returns to Hollywood full time. What’s he got to lose?

Governor Schwarzenegger has until September 30th to either sign or veto the bill.

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