Tag Archives: disability

Health coverage – a commonsense protection during pregnancy leave

By Noreen Farrell, Managing Attorney, Equal Rights Advocates & Beth McGovern, Legislative Director, California Commission on the Status of Women

Julia was eight months pregnant when her employer informed her that her health insurance coverage would be dropped during her pregnancy leave. Julia panicked. Without insurance, she faced thousands of dollars in medical bills. Not knowing if she could cover the expenses, Julia worried she would be unable to continue care with her doctor just when she needed it the most. Lack of health insurance coverage exposed Julia and her baby to medical risks, fiscal ruin, and extreme anxiety.  Sadly, Julia is not alone.

Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit legal organization, receives too many calls for help from women like Julia – workers who have lost their health insurance coverage just before or right after the birth of a child.  A gap in California law is putting pregnant women and new mothers in this awful predicament – forced to work or return to work against their doctor’s recommendation, or risk losing the insurance coverage that makes health care affordable.  

Working women make up nearly half of the American workforce, and pregnant women have a stronger connection to the workforce than ever before. In fact, three in four women entering today’s workforce will become pregnant at least once while employed and generally stay in the workforce. Women need access to affordable pregnancy leave so that they can take time off before and after birth without losing pay and important benefits such as health insurance coverage. It is well-documented that lack of pregnancy leave impacts the health of mothers and newborn children. When forced to pay out-of-pocket costs for health coverage, many women delay or cut short their leave.  Indeed, almost four in five workers report being unable to take leave because they could not afford it.  

Pregnancy and childbirth can be the most vulnerable time of a woman’s life. And the risk of complications during pregnancy or childbirth is a very real one. Statistics show that approximately 13 percent of women will have a complication from pregnancy requiring them to be hospitalized before delivery. 20 percent of pregnant women spend a minimum of one week on bed rest during the course of their pregnancy.  That is why access to both continued medical care and leave from work are crucial.

Experts agree on the importance of effective prenatal care and pregnancy leave. UC Berkeley professor Dr. Sylvia Guendelman, a maternal and child health expert, writes:  “Effective prenatal care can help reduce societal and individual burdens to mothers and infants. Working women who are able to get coverage for prenatal care are more likely to take maternity leave, which has been shown to have positive effects on mothers and infants, as well as on employee retention and loyalty.”

While California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Act enables most workers to take a job-protected leave for a pregnancy-related condition, the law does not require employers to continue health insurance coverage during the leave.  The state legislature has an opportunity to fix this problem. California Senate Bill 299, authored by Senator Noreen Evans, would amend state law to ensure that employers continue health insurance coverage for workers who take leave for pregnancy or childbirth related conditions.  

SB 299 will protect California’s pregnant women, new mothers and their children – a bi-partisan issue that all legislators can proudly get behind.

For more information on SB 299, please visit http://workfamilyca.org/campai…

Furlough Idiocy: One Size Does Not Fit All

This is monumentally stupid, counterproductive and illogical.  When Arnold ordered all state workers to take furloughs he insisted that there we absolutely no exceptions.  That edict is costing the state government and causing harm to the some of the most vulnerable Californians. Merc:

The governor, in the interest of fairness and simplicity, has insisted that his unpaid time off policy, which covers about 235,000 workers, be implemented across the board. So that means no exceptions even for the one state agency – a team of nearly 1,400 employees who review claims for federal disability payments – funded entirely by the feds.

Sending those employees home one day a month means the state will forgo about $10 million – or 5 percent of the agency’s $210 million annual budget – from Washington, without saving state government any money. Meanwhile, it’s taking the agency longer to process claims, delaying disability benefits at a time when such requests are soaring.

“There really is no reason to do this, it’s a no-brainer,” said Pete Spencer, the regional commissioner for the U.S. Social Security Administration, which oversees the disability claims program. “If the governor is saying he wants to take all the money the federal government is offering, this is one area he’s not doing it.”

Spencer wrote to the governor twice since November to explain the problem, and early last month received from Schwarzenegger what appeared to be a form letter in response.

Lovely.  Other states are not so stupid.  Over a dozen of them have exempted departments funded by the feds from hiring freezes or furloughs.  That’s just common sense.

This idiotic decision is causing a great deal of harm to those who are disabled and rely on the functioning of this department.

Spencer said the furloughs are prolonging the amount of time it takes for the agency to review benefit claims, forcing disabled people who qualify to wait longer for help. Also being put on the back burner are reviews of existing recipients to check whether they still qualify for benefits. Paring ineligible people from the rolls saves California money because the state pays a share of disability benefits, known as Supplemental Security Payments.

The Schwarzenegger administration is trying to defend itself by saying it is  an “equity issue”.  Screw equity.  Make decisions based on merit and efficiency.  One size never fits all.