Women-centric bills on the docket this session

Several new bills benefiting women and girls were pre-filed in the weeks ahead of the upcoming legislative session, which if passed would expand access to health insurance for pregnant women and women who have just given birth, as well as provide access to menstrual products for girls in public schools. 

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Two of the four bills deal with health insurance coverage for new and expecting mothers, greatly expanding the amount of time pregnant and postpartum women can access health care through Medicaid. Another bill, SB 6129, would allow full-time college students to access abortion services if their student health insurance plan covers other maternity care. 

Senate Bill 6129 would loop full-time college and graduate school students into coverage of abortion services if their student health plan covers other maternal health care services. Those student health care plans eligible for abortion coverage have to be issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2021. The bill would require abortion care services “substantially equivalent” to other maternal health care services covered under the student’s health insurance policy. 

Abortion services can’t be limited, however, they could be subject to cost sharing, among other terms and conditions of that student’s health insurance policy. A current stipulation of state law would still not require insurers to provide abortion services to student policy holders that have a multi-state policy that does not cover abortion.

Senate Bill 6073 would require public schools to supply menstrual products for free in gender-neutral bathrooms and girls’ bathrooms. The bill, if passed, applies only to schools that include grades six through 12 and must comply by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. The menstrual products would be for students only and schools are allowed to partner with nonprofit and community organizations to meet the new requirements, which also stipulates that public schools must pay for the menstrual products.

Two bills, Senate Bill 6128 and Senate Bill 6106 would require the state to provide medical assistance for new mothers, which would see an expansion of Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months postpartum to combat the health risks that can arise from lack of continuing health care during the first year after birth. Pregnancy-related deaths can be avoided, an October 2019 Maternal Mortality Review Panel report said, by ensuring postpartum care is paid for through the first year of postpartum health care and can improve both maternal and infant health.

If SB 6128 becomes law, The Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) would still be required to pay for postpartum care starting Jan. 1, 2021, to new mothers in Washington who earn up to 193 percent of the federal poverty level, roughly $24,105.70 a year for individuals, $32,636.30 a year for a family of two or $49,697.50 a year for a family of four, for example. SB 6106 also requires the HCA to continue to provide medical assistance to post-partum women who earn up to 193 percent of the federal poverty level. One key difference between the two bills is that pregnant women, too, are included in the scope of SB 6106. 

Both bills would also require the state to seek out financial assistance from the federal government to support the Medicaid expansion. Both bills also require HCA to request a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow the state to receive matching funds from the federal government for the state Medicaid expansion. Even if the federal government doesn’t award the state matching funds, the state of Washington would still have to expand Medicaid coverage to one year of postpartum care for new mothers.