New York governor pushes for paid medical leave during pregnancy
Pregnant people in New York would have 40 hours of paid leave to attend prenatal medical appointments under a new proposal by Gov. Kathy Hochul after the state's legislative session kicked off this week.
The Democrat's plan to expand the state's paid family leave policy, which would need to be approved by the state Legislature, aims to expand access to high-quality prenatal care and prevent maternal and infant deaths in New York, an issue that especially affects low-income and minority communities.
The U.S. infant mortality rate, a measure of how many babies die before they reach their first birthday, is worse than other high-income countries, which experts have attributed to poverty, inadequate prenatal care and other possibilities. The U.S. rate rose 3% in 2022 — the largest increase in two decades, according to a 2023 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We hope what we're doing in New York will raise the bar for the rest of the nation," Hochul said Thursday at an event at a hospital in Brooklyn. "Consistent medical care in the early months makes all the difference."
New York's paid family leave policy currently only applies after a baby is born. If approved, New York would be the first to establish statewide coverage for prenatal care, the governor noted.
In New York, the mortality rate for Black infants was 2.8 times higher than that of white or Hispanic infants in 2019, according to a report issued by the state Department of Health in June that looked at the years 2016 to 2019.
The report also found that people of color are less likely to receive routine medical procedures and experience a low quality of care overall, which drive some of the racial disparities in infant health.
State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat, said that while she supports the idea, she's concerned about potential cuts to other parts of the existing paid family leave program.
"At the end of the day, there isn't an amount of unlimited pool of money in the program," Solages said. "We have to be smart with the policies we put forward. We have to reform the programs and strengthen parts of it to make sure all families get access to it."
Hochul's proposal also includes waiving co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for pregnancy-related benefits for New Yorkers enrolled in certain health plans. She also wants the state to provide funding for free portable cribs for economically disadvantaged New Yorkers in an effort to reduce the number of infant deaths related to unsafe sleep settings.
Additionally, she is proposing that the state launch new initiatives to reduce the rate of unnecessary cesarean sections, which the governor said is performed by some doctors more frequently than recommended.
Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said they'd review the proposal. New York's Legislative session began Wednesday and will end in June.