Today, Capital New York reported that the Senate and Assembly passed bills that would make pregnancy a qualifying event triggering a special enrollment period for the state health insurance exchange, allowing pregnant women to enroll in a health plan at any time.  The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Senators Seward and Hannon, and in the Assembly by Assembly Member Simotas, was the result of efforts by Sen. Krueger, Assm. Simotas, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, and advocates to close this loophole in the federal Affordable Care Act.

By Laura Nahmias

ALBANY—A bill allowing pregnant women to enroll in New York State’s health exchange unanimously passed the Assembly Wednesday night and now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The bill, which the Senate unanimously approved earlier Wednesday, would make New York the first state to classify pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for enrollment in the state’s health exchange.

California is also weighing a similar measure.

Currently, a number of life events such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce and becoming a U.S. citizen qualify a person to enroll in health coverage outside of the designated enrollment period. Pregnancy, however, was not included under the federal law.

Momentum for including pregnancy began to build earlier this year. But a consumer advocacy campaign seeking the rule change failed when Department of Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell denied the request, saying Medicaid could cover some qualifying low-income women and that others could sign up during the regular enrollment period.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a report earlier this year outlining the barriers to health care access for pregnant women, and partnered with the legislation’s sponsors, Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, to push for the bill’s passage.

The legislation faced some opposition from groups such as the state Business Council and the insurance industry, which said it could create a slippery slope that would allow a number of conditions to become qualifying events for exchange enrollment.

But it faced no real opposition from lawmakers.

Under the legislation, women would become eligible to enroll from the point at which their pregnancies are certified through a blood test. The coverage would then be retroactive.

In a statement, Krueger called it “common sense legislation.”

Women’s reproductive rights advocates also hailed the bill’s passage.

“Today the New York State Legislature acted in the best interests of New York State by connecting pregnant women to insurance coverage at a time when access to health care is extremely critical to the health and long-term well-being of women and their children,” Carol Blowers, interim C.E.O. of Family Planning Advocates of New York said in an emailed statement. “Allowing pregnant woman to obtain health insurance removes a barrier that kept our most vulnerable New Yorkers at risk.”