ANNAPOLIS – Last summer, Linda Kempske underwent 25 hours of labor before giving birth to her son.
“I needed to stay in the hospital because I was exhausted” and her son was dehydrated, Kemske, 38, of Perry Hall, testified to a House committee Wednesday.
But to her dismay, her insurance company wouldn’t pay for a 48-hour hospital stay.
As a result, Kempske said, she went home fewer than 24 hours later and slept eight hours over the following three days. She had to wake up every two hours to keep her newborn hydrated.
Kempske discussed her experience during an Economic Matters Committee hearing on a bill that would require insurance companies to cover hospital stays of up to 48 hours following delivery for women with complication-free births. With cesarian sections, insurers would have to pay for a 96-hour, four-day post-partum hospital stay at the mother’s request.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Donald Elliott, R-Carroll, is intended to close a loophole left by similar legislation passed during the 1995 session.
In many cases, insurers have opted to pay for a home visit from a health professional instead of permitting the mother and newborn to remain hospitalized for 48 hours.
Kempske, who is a registered pediatric nurse, said a one- time home visit for her baby would not have helped. “I needed someone to take care of me,” she said.
Elliott’s bill would hand women, not insurance companies, the authority to decide whether to stay in the hospital up to 48 hours.
Devin Doolan, a lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the National Capital Area, opposed the measure as an expensive and unnecessary mandate on insurance companies. “Hospital stays are unbelievably expensive,” he said.
But Elliott said the legislation is necessary because babies’ basic functions, such as heart rate, swallowing and breathing, do not normalize within 24 hours in about one-third of cases. A premature hospital discharge can preclude discovery of infants’ ailments such as jaundice, he said.
“A human life is too precious to play newborn Russian roulette,” Elliott told the committee. Two full days “allows for the stabilization of bodily functions of mothers and infants,” he added.
There is likely to be a savings in long-term medical costs with the assurance that the infant and mother are in stable health before release, Elliott said.
As an alternative, Joseph Schwartz of the Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland said it would be better if doctors, not women, decide whether a woman should stay the full 48 hours.
Schwartz testified that his organization, representing doctors in the state, is “concerned that the physician be the one that makes the medical decision.”
MedChi’s plan, developed with insurance companies, will be formally presented to the General Assembly later in the session, Schwartz said.
With other bills expected or already under review in the House and Senate, Elliott said he foresees the final legislation being “a hybrid of a number of bills.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics will introduce a bill this session that would leave the mother and physician to make the decision jointly, said Barbara Seabolt, a lobbyist for the group’s Maryland Chapter. Legislation requiring insurance coverage of longer maternal hospital stays has become law in four states and is pending before 23 other state legislatures, Seabolt said. -30-