By Jennifer Ferris
“…[R]ight now some people get too much of a good thing and some people don’t get enough,” Wos said shortly before the Senate announced its 2014 budget.
So who’s getting “too much,” by the Senate’s estimation? It turns out it’s low-income pregnant women.
The North Carolina Senate has proposed a budget, that denies Medicaid to thousands of pregnant North Carolina women. In a sweeping cut, they decreased the amount of income a pregnant woman can make and still qualify for services. At the moment, it’s 185% of the poverty level—$3,500 a month for a family of four. In the new budget, it drops dramatically to 133% of the poverty level– $2,610 for a family of four.
The good news—for now—is that the House of Representatives’ budget does not include this provision, and in documents released by the House Health and Human Services Committee, Medicaid for pregnant women is preserved at the previous levels. Unfortunately, that can change at any time.
Senators have indicated they expect provisions in the Affordable Care Act to fill in the gaps, and have said women will be covered under a minimal coverage provision that hasn’t been finalized by the federal government. Even if that is true, the state Senate’s plan will still leave thousands of women in the lurch.
According to the North Carolina Justice Center, women who have the option of coverage by a spouse’s insurance won’t receive help from the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid. They’ll be expected to pay for any insurance available to them, even if it’s impossibly expensive.
And what will that look like for North Carolina families?
I am a member of a family supported mostly by the income of my husband, who works for the state. During my last pregnancy we fell solidly in between those 133% and 185% numbers. The state health insurance plan through my husband’s work cost about $6,000 a year—more than 20% of our take-home income. We seriously considered going without insurance, thankfully a choice we didn’t make since giving birth to our son cost $30,000—more money than we’d take home in a year.
Reducing the number of families who qualify for pregnancy coverage doesn’t really fix healthcare or reduce waste. All it does is put people in a situation where they have to decide between going to the doctor or putting dinner on the table. The average family who falls in that gap isn’t jetting off to the Bahamas on the money they’re saving on pregnancy health insurance. They’re paying the rent.
Even without Medicaid I would have found a way to get prenantal care. But not all women are as resourceful as me. And we shouldn’t expect them to be, either. The number one predictor of a child’s lifelong health is adequate prenatal care, and we should be making it as easy as possible for a family to give their child the best start possible, not excluding them from care because we think they get “too m