FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., center, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., center right, and other Democratic lawmakers joined new mothers and their babies at the Capitol to criticize Republican efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," in Washington. The health care law has opened up an unusual opportunity for some mothers-to-be to save on medical bills for childbirth. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Updated: June 15, 2014 6:20AM
WASHINGTON — The health care law has opened up an unusual opportunity for some mothers-to-be to save on medical bills for childbirth.
Lower-income women who signed up for a private policy in the new insurance exchanges will have access to additional coverage from their state’s Medicaid program if they get pregnant. Some women could save hundreds of dollars on their share of hospital and doctor bills.
Medicaid already pays for nearly half of U.S. births, but this would create a way for the safety-net program to supplement private insurance for many expectant mothers.
Officials and advocates say the enhanced coverage will be available across the country, whether or not a state expands Medicaid under the health law. However, states have different income cutoffs for eligibility, ranging from near the poverty line to solid middle class.
The main roadblock right now seems to be logistical: reprogramming state and federal computer systems to recognize that certain pregnant women have a legal right to coverage both from Medicaid and private plans on the insurance exchange. Technically, they can pick one or the other, or a combination.
States and insurers will have to sort out who pays for what.
Another big challenge will be educating the public about this latest health law wrinkle. It’s complicated for officials and policy experts, let alone the average consumer.
The cost impact for federal and state taxpayers is uncertain. Providing more generous coverage increases costs, but comprehensive prenatal care can save money by preventing premature births and birth defects.
Existing Medicaid policies, subsidized private coverage under President Barack Obama’s law and an obscure Treasury Department ruling combined to produce the new options for pregnant women.
Medicaid is a federal-state program that covers low-income and disabled people. Before the health law, states offered special, time-limited coverage to uninsured pregnant women until their children were born.