“Can do!” has pretty much been the mantra of the Obamaadministration’s attitude toward finding ways to offer healthinsurance to Americans. But when it comes to pregnant moms,suddenly the word was: “No can do!”

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That's a simplification of the latest policy pronouncement fromthe Department of Health and Human Services.

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In the string of special efforts to get folks to sign up foraffordable coverage, the administration invented the extended enrollment period for uninsured whojust might tumble to the need for coverage when they did theirtaxes.

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Then pregnant women were brought into thediscussion.

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U.S. Sen. Patty Murphy (D-Wash.) went to bat for pregnant moms without healthinsurance by recommending an extended enrollment period just forthem. This initiative attracted the support of many Democrats, andignited a campaign to convince HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell togo ahead and roll out a special extension for pregnant women.

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But Burwell, in a response to a letter Murphy, with 36 othersignatures, sent in March, this week said HHS does not have “thelegal authority to establish pregnancy as an exceptionalcircumstance” to create a special enrollment period. Burwell citedlegal precedent and guidance from large insurers as reasons.

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Burwell said pregnant women could enroll in Medicaid and theChildren’s Health Insurance Program.

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“Women with low and moderate incomes can enroll in theseprograms at any time if they qualify,” Burwell wrote. “And, likeall other qualified individuals, pregnant women can enroll in theMarketplace during the annual open enrollment period.”

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Many were disappointed in the response.

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“It is absolutely critical that all pregnant women have accessto health care coverage, so I am disappointed by today’sannouncement,” Murray said in a statement. “I will continue lookingfor ways to get this done so that more women can get covered andget the affordable, high quality care they need for themselves andtheir young children.”

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Jen Mishory, executive director at Young Invincibles, amillennial advocacy group, also said she was disappointed in thenews.

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"We’re gravely disappointed the Administration is leavingpregnant women vulnerable during a life-changing event and won’tallow an opportunity to gain access to much-needed coverage outsideof open enrollment,” she said in a statement. “The Administrationhas the authority to create special enrollment periods in caseslike these, but is instead ignoring the calls to protect women'shealth of nearly 100 members of Congress, over 100,000 consumers,and dozens of organizations to do so. The Administration has namedmany extraordinary circumstances qualifying life events for specialenrollment, and there’s no reason — legal or otherwise — theycannot do so here.”

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.