New Md. Law Will Expand Medicaid Family Planning Benefits

January 5, 2011 — More low-income Maryland women are eligible for Medicaid family planning services and other preventive care under a law (HB 778) that took effect on Jan. 1, the AP/Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports.

The law allows women with incomes at or below 200% of the poverty level to receive services such as pelvic exams, counseling and prescriptions for contraception, as well as screenings for breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and sexually transmitted infections. Previously, Maryland women were only eligible for family planning services through Medicaid if they had a child (AP/Hagerstown Herald-Mail, 12/28/11).

The federal health reform law (PL 111-148) makes it easier for states to expand family planning eligibility through Medicaid. States wishing to expand eligibility can seek federal approval through a more efficient state Medicaid plan amendment process, rather than the previous waiver process. Once CMS approves a state plan amendment, the changes become part of the state's Medicaid program and states do not have to reapply to continue offering the services. CMS will continue to reimburse states at a 90% matching rate for approved family planning services (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/29/11).

The legislation received bipartisan support. Members of both parties and women's advocates say it will help the state reduce costs by lowering the number of unintended pregnancies and births, as well as abortions. The Maryland Department of Legislative Services expects enrollment in the program to increase by 177%, or 31,191 women, as a result of the changes.

"We're expected to save between $20 (million) and $40 million a year, depending on how many people get involved," bill sponsor Del. Heather Mizeur (D) said. Co-sponsor Del. Michael Smigiel (R) anticipated that the expanded benefits could prevent the need for up to 2,000 abortions (AP/Hagerstown Herald-Mail, 12/28/11).