The state Assembly Chamber during a legislative session in Albany on Jan....

The state Assembly Chamber during a legislative session in Albany on Jan. 16. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Prenatal vitamins would be covered by insurance for women with a prescription under legislation approved by the State Senate this week aimed at improving maternal and infant health in New York.

The measure, which the Assembly passed in January, looks to ensure that women of all socioeconomic backgrounds have access to the vitamin supplements at little to no cost. Health insurance providers would be required to cover the medication, though coverage may be subject to deductibles and coinsurance.

“This just creates healthy babies in New York State,” Assemb. Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh), the bill’s Assembly sponsor, told Newsday.

The proposed legislation comes as New York lawmakers look to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates, which have been high statewide and nationally in recent years, particularly for women of color.

In New York, the infant death rate is 4.26 per 1,000 live births, according to 2022 provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The maternal mortality ratio between 2018 and 2020 was 19.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to state Department of Health data.

The state budget approved last month included several measures aimed at improving maternal health, including creating a prenatal paid leave program and expanding access to community-based doulas, who help mothers, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, get proper care before, during and after they give birth.

“This is a positive step forward for the health of a mother and the health of a child, but there’s so much more that we can do,” said State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Ozone Park), who sponsored the prenatal vitamin bill in the Senate.

While the prenatal vitamin measure has the support of groups, including the New York State Catholic Conference, it faces opposition from insurance providers.

“Creating new health insurance coverage mandates results in increased costs for individuals and employers purchasing health insurance in New York,” the New York Health Plan Association, which represents insurers, said in a memo on the bill.

Maternal nutrition

Prenatal supplements include vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron and folic acid, to help fetal growth and ensure both mothers and babies get the essential nutrients needed, according to the American Pregnancy Association, a national health group.

Prenatal vitamins can increase positive health outcomes for mothers and babies, said Gunther, who has worked as a nurse in obstetrics.

Not only does the bill reduce costs for those purchasing prenatal vitamins, but it also translates to savings for insurance companies and the state in the long run, Gunther said. “A healthy baby costs less than a baby that has any kind of compromised situation,” she said.

The New York State Catholic Conference applauded the bill’s passage.

“We’re thrilled anytime that we do see bills and initiatives that do support women,” said Kristen Curren, conference director of government relations. “Anything we can do to make it easier to carry a baby to term,” she said, adding that “every little bit helps” to create a comprehensive support network for women.

The New York Health Plan Association said that while the bill is well intentioned, it’s “unnecessary” because most plans provide this benefit, according to the memo. “Forcing employers to include benefits they and their workforce may not want or need exacerbates the challenge they face to find affordable health care options,” the memo said.

The bill heads to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her review. If approved, it would take effect in January 2025.

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