Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sen. Kevin Kelly (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 2:24 p.m.) Republican lawmakers teamed up with some unlikely groups like Planned Parenthood Tuesday in order to push legislation that would expand health insurance for pregnant women.

At a Legislative Office Building press conference, Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he’s again proposing legislation, SB 206, that would allow uninsured pregnant women to purchase health insurance within 30 days of learning about their pregnancy.

A similar bill died on the House calendar last year after receiving a unanimous vote in the Senate. Last year, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sided with the insurance industry and opposed the bill because he thought it would increase health insurance premiums and send the wrong signal to the industry. At the time Aetna was considering relocating its Hartford headquarters.

“For my part, let me be absolutely clear — it will be very difficult for me to sign my name onto a bill that will raise insurance premiums without first enacting my proposal calling for a comprehensive insurance mandate review,” Malloy said last June following Senate passage of the bill.

Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for Malloy, said the bill is a classic Republican “bait and switch” that will drive up health care costs.

“Of course women should have access to prenatal care, but the best way to ensure that access is to make sure people to maintain continuous health insurance coverage,” Appleby said. “GOP senators are once again proving that they fundamentally misunderstand what insurance is and how it works. Insurance works because of the practice of spreading the cost over all enrollees in a risk pool for the premium period. That’s why Governor Malloy has proposed legislation to safeguard the vital functions of the Affordable Care Act.”

Kelly said it’s an important bill because it will help women get coverage where there is currently a gap.

“This is going to improve health outcomes for both the mother and child,” Kelly said.

The bill is supposed to encourage women to seek prenatal care and help avoid the costs of a health complications and death.

“A premature birth is about $55,000,” Kelly said. “A healthy birth is $5,000. That’s a significant savings.”

Kelly said Connecticut has one of the best state-based health exchanges in the country and they should take advantage of that to help lower costs.

“It’s going to give women the opportunity they need to get health care where there is currently a gap,” Kelly said.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act enrollment for the health insurance exchange was only open between Nov. 1 and Dec. 22. There are only a few reasons a person can qualify to purchase insurance outside that window of time.

Gretchen Raffa, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said pregnancy care coverage can help improve Connecticut’s maternal morbidity and infant mortality rates.

“However, any women who does not qualify for pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage who is uninsured and became pregnant outside the marketplace enrollment period may not have access to health insurance while pregnant,” Raffa said. “Health care coverage during pregnancy is important because basic treatment and preventative care services serve as a boundary between healthy motherhood and a woman’s maternal mortality and serious morbidity.”

She said most of the complications that develop during pregnancy are preventable and treatable.

“The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world where the maternal mortality rate is actually on the rise despite improvements in health care,” Raffa said.

Prenatal care is also beneficial for infants.

According to the March of Dimes, premature births and low birthweight babies cost on average 12 times more in health care costs.

Catherine Bailey, deputy director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said open enrollment periods for pregnant women are vital because “no person should be forced to forgo these essential services because the timing of her pregnancy doesn’t align with the open enrollment period for health plans.”

What’s different this year?

Kelly said they introduced the legislation much earlier this year than last year.

Also, since last year’s brief debate both New York and Vermont have passed similar legislation.

Kelly said they now have experience in those two states that run contrary to the opponents claims that this is an expensive proposition.