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Fact Sheet

Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act

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U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration

The Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act of 1996 (the Newborns’ Act), signed into law on September 26, 1996, requires plans that offer maternity coverage to pay for at least a 48-hour hospital stay following childbirth (96-hour stay in the case of a cesarean section).

This law was effective for group health plans for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 1998.

On October 27, 1998, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services, published interim regulations clarifying issues arising under the Newborns’ Act. The changes made by the regulations are effective for group health plans for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 1999.

The Newborns’ Act and its regulations provide that health plans and insurance issuers may not restrict a mother’s or newborn’s benefits for a hospital length of stay that is connected to childbirth to less than 48 hours following a vaginal delivery or 96 hours following a delivery by cesarean section. However, the attending provider (who may be a physician or nurse midwife) may decide, after consulting with the mother, to discharge the mother or newborn child earlier.

The Newborns’ Act, and its regulations, prohibit incentives (either positive or negative) that could encourage less than the minimum protections under the Act as described above.

A mother cannot be encouraged to accept less than the minimum protections available to her under the Newborns’ Act and an attending provider cannot be induced to discharge a mother or newborn earlier than 48 or 96 hours after delivery.

The type of coverage provided by the plan (insured or self-insured) and state law will determine whether the Newborns’ Act applies to a mother’s or newborn’s coverage.

The Newborns’ Act provisions always apply to coverage that is self-insured. If the plan provides benefits for hospital stays in connection with childbirth and is insured, whether the plan is subject to the Newborns’ Act depends on State law.  Based on a recent preliminary review of State laws, if the coverage is in Wisconsin and several U.S. territories, it appears that the Federal Newborns’ Act applies to the plan.  If the coverage is in any other state or the District of Columbia, it appears that State law applies in lieu of the Federal Newborns’ Act.

All group health plans that provide maternity or newborn infant coverage must include a statement in their summary plan description (SPD) advising ’Act requirements.

This fact sheet has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Washington, DC 20210. It will be made available in alternate formats upon request: Voice telephone: 202-693-8664; TTY: 202-501-3911. In addition, the information in this fact sheet constitutes a small entity compliance guide for purposes of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.