Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney
When Pennsylvania’s politicians say they are for protecting the unborn, they mean it literally: the minute you’re born, you’re on your own.
Last month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW), which is run by Governor Tom Corbett’s political appointees, yanked the rug out from under maternity wards state-wide by eliminating the $1,155 payment it used to make to hospitals for a newborn’s regular care when the mother is on Medical Assistance (Pennsylvania’s name for Medicaid). DPW will continue to reimburse hospitals for the mother’s care, but it will no longer reimburse hospitals for the baby’s care unless the baby develops complications or needs to stay longer than normal for observation.
Nearly half of all births in Pennsylvania are paid for by Medical Assistance, so the reimbursement cuts will significantly impact hospitals across the state that provide maternity care, forcing them to absorb even more of the cost for the services they provide to pregnant women and their babies. Even prior to these cuts, hospitals typically lost money on Medicaid deliveries. One community hospital reported that every Medical Assistance delivery costs the hospital between $7,800 and $8,400, while the Medicaid reimbursement prior to May 1st was a mere $6,867 for both mother and baby. Now it is just $5,712.
Large hospitals that also serve many privately-insured mothers might be able to spread the loss among other deliveries, or even among other departments in the hospital. However, independent community hospitals that already have trouble breaking even will face greater financial difficulties. As a result, they may have to close their maternity wards and lay off employees, making it even harder for Pennsylvania’s pregnant women to receive maternity care within a reasonable distance from their homes. Already, as the Women’s Law Project explores in our recent publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, many women in Pennsylvania, particularly if they are poor, have few options when choosing obstetrical providers. For these women, the result of the shrinking number of obstetrical providers that accept Medical Assistance is a delay or a denial in receiving prenatal care, medical care that is important for the health of pregnant women and their babies. DPW’s cuts to hospital reimbursements will only exacerbate an already dire situation for women who receive Medicaid.
DPW’s decision to cut hospital reimbursements for newborn care is another example of how misguided Governor Corbett’s administration is on issues relating to women’s and children’s health. The governor pressed for controversial legislation that would mandate women undergo medically-unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortions, justifying the bill by claiming these women can just “close their eyes,” but his administration will not even use a combination of federal and state funds to pay for the medical assessments and procedures newborn babies need in the crucial first 72 hours after they are born.
If Governor Corbett and DPW truly believed in the sanctity of life, they would promote policies that help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Their hypocrisy couldn’t be more apparent than in cutting maternity reimbursements for the care of newborn babies.