NEW YORK (AP) -- Across the United States, thousands of women who buy health insurance on their own -- rather than obtaining it through employers -- are forced to pay significantly higher premiums to receive maternity benefits, according to government and privately financed reports.
The reason: Individually sold plans often don't include maternity as a standard benefit.
Women and consumer groups contend the lack of maternity coverage is unfair and discriminatory. And, they say, while society urges pregnant women to avoid smoking and drinking and other unhealthy behaviors, the lack of insurance coverage creates a barrier to women getting prenatal care to help prevent birth defects and other complications.
"Women have different care needs than men and for a health plan not to cover maternity is a form of discrimination against women," said Joanne Hustead, director of legal and public policy for the Washington-based National Partnership for Women and Families.
"It's outrageous," said Judy Waxman, deputy director of Families USA, a consumer health group. "Maternity care should be a basic benefit because it encourages prenatal care."
A 1997 General Accounting Office study of individual health insurance market in seven states found that maternity services were covered only by about 60 percent of health plans. …