CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most of us have certain expectations for health insurance for children. It should cover broken bones, colds and serious illness. Generally, insurance companies cover these medical issues without question. However, when it comes to teen pregnancy, health coverage can fall short. At a point when a young woman can be at her most vulnerable emotionally, psychologically and physically, our state's largest employee health plan, the Public Employees Insurance Agency, does not cover the pregnancy of teen mothers (prenatal care).
By definition, a teen pregnancy is a high-risk pregnancy. We know there are great health risks associated with teen motherhood for both the teen and the child. Young women are more likely to have babies that are born prematurely, suffer from low birthweight, and often experience greater health problems. The mother may experience hypertension, anemia, inadequate weight gain, as well as more emotional problems, as compared with older mothers.
Teen pregnancy is all too high in West Virginia: one in 22 West Virginia girls will have a baby. Teen pregnancy is an issue that cuts across socioeconomic status. It affects both affluent young women and those who live in the most impoverished areas, like our home counties of Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo and Wayne, and in the capital city. Reasons for teen pregnancy are complex and often difficult to address. While we may not always agree on the causes and the best way to prevent and reduce teen pregnancy, most people agree that a top priority for our young people is to get the health care they need.
We know first-hand as health-care providers and legislators that policies making it harder to get pregnancy care jeopardize a teen and her child's health. Inadequate health care can lead to high-risk pregnancies that result in babies who need intensive care. When this happens, young women miss school, resulting in a higher dropout rate. It is disappointing that West Virginia has laws that actually get in the way of a young woman's ability to receive prenatal care she needs.
The good news is, the Legislature is on the threshold of addressing this problem by removing barriers to critical care through Senate Bill 22.
Right now, if a family is insured through PEIA -- and that includes everyone from police officers, to teachers, to government employees -- a teenager in that family cannot get pregnancy care through her family's health insurance plan. She can get a sore throat taken care of or be covered by insurance if she breaks her foot, but pregnancy is not covered. This means that prenatal care may be delayed, contributing to poor birth outcomes. This also contributes to higher costs of government-run health-care programs through the Department of Health and Human Resources and Medicaid. Cost-shifting to government also ultimately means higher uncompensated care costs for hospitals and private providers.
By passing Senate Bill 22, we can ensure insurance coverage of maternity care for all dependents. This lets a teen stay within her family plan and receive care from her family health-care provider -- the one she knows, trusts and with whom she is comfortable. The added benefit is that such legislation will save our state and health-care system money for years to come by reducing high-risk pregnancies and their associated costs.
Bright futures for youth should be our priority in West Virginia. Senate Bill 22 is a win-win. We understand that constituents are looking to the Legislature to address teen pregnancy in our state. We believe this legislation is a step in the right direction. Our colleagues must now act so that no young mother or her baby fails to get the best health care possible. The clock is ticking and we can't afford to let West Virginia's daughters wait any longer.
Sen. Stollings, D-Boone, is a physician, and Delegate Perdue, D-Wayne, is a registered pharmacist.