Gov. Hochul could make NY first state to offer paid family leave to pregnant individuals

Gov. Hochul Maternal and Infant Mortality Presser
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick Brooklyn on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2023. Hochul unveiled proposals to address centering on infant and maternal mortality.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday announced a suite of proposals aimed at tackling New York’s infant and maternal mortality crises that include expanding paid family leave to people during pregnancy and eliminating “pregnancy-related” care co-pays for certain health insurance plans.

The announcement, which Hochul made at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, marked her third preview of policies she will officially roll out in her third annual State of the State address scheduled for next Tuesday in Albany.

Hochul said tackling the dual issues is more urgent than ever, highlighting recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing the national infant mortality rate rose 3% between 2021 and 2022 — the first increase in two decades. Additionally, she pointed out that the US leads several of its peer developed nations in both infant and maternal mortality rates — with a rate more than ten times those of countries like Australia and Japan in 2021.

Gov. Kathy Hochul rolls out suite of policies to combat infant and maternal mortality at a news conference at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Thursday, Jan. 4, 2023.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“Mothers and babies are dying unnecessarily across the nation and right here in New York,” Hochul said. “This could only be called a crisis. And as the first mom governor [of New York], this is personal … I’ve been there. And I’m committed to taking action to fix it.”

Black and brown families are at significantly greater risk of infant and maternal deaths.

The marquee proposal of Hochul’s six-point plan is to make 40 hours of paid family leave available to pregnant individuals before they give birth, so they can attend necessary doctor’s appointments without having to miss a paycheck or dip into the paid time off. Currently, paid family leave is only offered to people after they give birth.

Hochul said the proposal will lead to better health outcomes for pregnant people and their newborns alike, according to scientific research. The move would make New York the first state in the country to offer prenatal paid family leave.

“We think that we should be able to take care of expecting moms before the baby is born and we think that they should have time off,” Hochul said. “Helping moms, helping them get to the doctor’s office. Helping them be healthier before their due date.”

The governor said she will also introduce legislation in her budget designed to eliminate co-pays and out-of-pocket costs for “pregnancy-related” care for New Yorkers enrolled in the state’s Essential Plan, which is for low-income adults who do not qualify for Medicaid, and those on Qualified Health Plans — private plans under the Affordable Care Act.

“This will help 1.3 million New Yorkers who are enrolled in the Essential Plans or our Qualified Health Plans and now they will be able to get the care they need without a single copay or cost-sharing measure,” Hochul said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled several proposals aimed at tackling infant and maternal mortality in New York during a news conference at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024.Photo by Paul Frangipane

The other points of Hochul’s plan include allowing New Yorkers to access doulas — birthing experts — without having to get a referral from their primary care doctors, conducting better oversight of physicians who perform unnecessary C-sections, training state suicide hotline operators on maternal mental health and providing potable cribs to low-income families.

“If you can’t offer the baby a crib you’re jeopardizing that child,” Hochul said. “You’re at a significantly higher risk of death without a crib … We’re gonna provide those cribs. We will make sure that every family that needs help buying a crib will be able to get an affordable crib.”

Hochul’s other State of the State preview announcements this week included a proposal to ban co-pays for insulin and an overhaul of how schools across New York teach children how to read.