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Is Obamacare's maternity coverage requirement fair?

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 10:33 a.m. MST

The Obamacare required maternity and newborn coverage has caused a firestorm of debate over whether such a requirement is fair to those who choose not to have children or men who won't need the coverage. (nyul, Getty Images/iStockphoto) The Obamacare required maternity and newborn coverage has caused a firestorm of debate over whether such a requirement is fair to those who choose not to have children or men who won't need the coverage. (nyul, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Under the controversy surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, often dubbed “Obamacare,” prenatal, maternity and newborn care are "essential health benefits" that must be covered by an insurance plan in order to be compliant with the law.

However, with the Obama administration’s decision on Thursday to allow for resurrected versions of the recently canceled plans to stay in force for another year, policies without maternity care will once again be permitted — at least until the end of 2014.

That change, coupled with the fact that women cannot be charged more than men for health insurance under Obamacare, has sparked a spirited discussion in recent days over whether it is fair to require men to purchase policies that include maternity benefits.

The debate took off when Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., questioned Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius about the required coverage. In what Joel Pollak at Breitbart called "her 'A' game," Ellmers grilled Sebelius, "To the best of your knowledge, has a man ever delivered a baby?"

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw also questioned the reasoning behind charging women who require maternity care the same as men for insurance on his blog. "[H]aving children is more a choice than a random act of nature," he wrote. "People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy. We consider that fair because which car you drive is a choice. Why isn't having children viewed in the same way?"

Others have disagreed with the criticisms of the requirement. Matt Yglesias at Slate criticized Mankiw's logic. "One of the main goals of any kind of political community is the enduring of the political community," he said. "That requires the rule of law and blah blah blah, but it also obviously requires there to continue to be living, breathing human beings who belong to the political community. Which is to say that children, though expensive, differ from luxury cars in that they are human beings."

Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times also wrote in favor of the requirement, arguing that "Society has a vested interest in healthy babies and mothers.”

"And that's all [of] society," he continued, "because unhealthy babies and mothers impose a cost on everybody — in the expense of caring for them as wards of the public, and in the waste of social resources that comes from children unable to reach their full potential as members of society because of injuries or illnesses caused by poor prenatal and postnatal health."

According to Michelle Andrews at NBC News, while the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 mandated that companies with 15 or more employees offer health insurance to cover maternity care, the law does not apply to policies offered by smaller businesses or purchased directly by individuals. According to the National Women's Law Center, only 12 percent of individual health care plans cover maternity care. Andrews also reported that in 2007, "average expenses for maternity care, including nine months of prenatal care and three months of postpartum care for a delivery without complications, were $10,652."

Email: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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