Just as court challenges to the Affordable Care Act have begun to abate, a new legal challenge emerged last week that ironically seeks to expand rather than limit the scope of President Barack Obama's historic health care reform law.
One of the few features of health care reform that even opponents of the law have found acceptable requires insurers to allow adult children under age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance plan, regardless of whether those grown kids are married, financially independent or not living at home.
The problem, according to federal complaints filed by the National Women's Law Center, or NWLC, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, is that employers that fail to offer maternity coverage for their workers' insured daughters are now in violation of the Affordable Care Act's anti-discrimination provision.
What the law says
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination in any health plan or program that receives federal assistance, including research grants and subsidies. The NWLC claims that companies that don't offer maternity coverage to daughters illegally discriminate by providing lesser coverage to insured young women than to young males on a family plan.
The advocacy group filed complaints with the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights against five employers. Department spokeswoman Joanne Peters told The Wall Street Journal the agency is reviewing the complaints.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, employers with 15 or more workers that offer health coverage must provide maternity benefits to their employees and spouses. While the law does not apply to dependent children of workers, some insurers extend maternity coverage to insured daughters.
Advocacy group sees discrimination
Sharon Levin, NWLC director of federal reproductive health policy, says companies that exclude that coverage are violating federal law.
"In these cases, men's needs are being met whether they're dependents or not. But for these young women, maternity benefits are not being provided. It's a health benefit that only applies to women and (the absence of the benefit) denies them comprehensive coverage," she says.
The outcome of the complaints could affect millions of young women and their families. According to the NWLC, there are 2.4 million pregnancies each year among women younger than 25. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 25.4 years was the average age of first-time mothers in the U.S. in 2010.
As part of health care reform, maternity and newborn care will be among the 10 "essential health benefits" required under all new individual and small group health insurance policies. Large employers will not be subject to such requirements, however.
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Jay MacDonald is a Bankrate contributing editor and co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book by Bankrate editors and reporters.