California Extends Pregnancy Health Coverage

October 17, 2011 ( - A new California law extends health insurance coverage for employees classified as disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, Business Insurance reports.

The measure, S.B. 299, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law last week with a January 1, 2012, effective date, mandates that employers continue health care coverage for up to 16 weeks to disabled pregnant employees on the same basis as prior to the employee taking disability leave. The California law applies to employers with as few as five employees.  

According to the news report, some observers say the law runs afoul of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which pre-empts state and local rules that relate to employee benefit plans. The intent of that provision was to prevent multistate employers from having to comply with myriad state benefit laws, which could discourage them from offering benefit plans.  

However, Business Insurance noted that in a 2005 advisory opinion letter, the Department of Labor said a reading of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) makes it clear that neither the FMLA nor ERISA was intended to pre-empt more generous state leave laws (see DoL: More Generous State Law not Preempted by ERISA).