Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Sean Scanlon (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—Legislation that would allow uninsured pregnant women to enroll in health insurance outside of the annual enrollment period passed the House Tuesday after nearly three hours of debate.

The bill, which received wide bipartisan support, passed 139-10.

It passed the Senate last week 35-0 and now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.

Under the bill, a special enrollment period would be offered within 30 days after the pregnancy is confirmed by a licensed health care provider.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said the bill seeks to help uninsured pregnant women.

It does not offer any financial assistance for purchasing the insurance, it simply allows them to enter the market and purchase an insurance plan.

“This is a good bill. It affects a very small segment of the population, but for that segment it is very important benefit that they can utilize as they carry through the term of that pregnancy,” Scanlon said.

Under federal law, individuals cannot purchase insurance outside of the annual open enrollment period unless they experience a qualifying life event – for example marriage or the birth of a baby.

However, pregnancy is not currently classified as a “qualifying life event” in Connecticut. The legislation changes this so that expectant mothers would be allowed to enroll in health insurance when they become pregnant.

While the bill passed unanimously through the Senate, it had its detractors in the House.

Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, ranking member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said: “Insurance works by dividing the risk over a large pool so that everyone is paying in whether they have claims or not.

“This bill, sad to say,  even though I get the point of what we are trying to achieve, does the exact opposite,” Sampson said.  “It discourages you from purchasing insurance if we create a law that allows you have insurance once you become pregnant.”

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, asked Scanlon whether a woman would have insurance coverage under the bill if she became pregnant by artificial insemination.

Scanlon said the language of the bill didn’t address that issue, but when Dubitsky pressed, Scanlon said, yes artificial insemination would likely be covered – but he added that the high cost of artificial insemination would likely exclude the population being targeted by the bill.

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, passionately defended the bill. He said he was “amazed” by the debate he was listening to.

“We are not just talking about some woman who didn’t buy insurance when she should have,” Tercyak said. “This is a very important bill for the unborn children whose mothers were not responsible enough to get insurance.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Reps. Peter Tercyak and Robert Sanchez of New Britain look on during the debate (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Tercyak sought to remind his colleagues about the health of the unborn child and how it depends on the health of the mother.

“We are talking about the health of a fetus, who is not a tumor, not a cancer, and who is not an illness,” Tercyak said. “The heck with the mother if you want to look at it that way – we are insuring the fetus here.”

In the Senate, Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, led passage of the legislation.

“Women in Connecticut have waited three long years for this legislation to pass through the General Assembly, it’s time to put politics aside and think about what is best for the women and children of our state,” Kelly said.

The Centers for Disease Control found that 700 women in the United States die each year as a result of pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications. In Connecticut, there have been eight such pregnancy-related deaths between 2011 and 2014.

“This is common sense legislation,” said Kelly. “This legislation will help keep mothers and babies healthy and will translate into better health outcomes throughout their entire lives.”

Republicans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Planned Parenthood and NARAL on the legislation early this year.

Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, supported the bill.

“A special enrollment period for pregnancy then allows these individuals access to insurance that cover maternity care, improving children’s and women’s health, with little cost to other consumers since so few people would be buying plans in this manner,” Croucher said.