Foundation fund

I had a free delivery, other New York moms should be able to do the same

A new mom (Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)

When I had my first child, I couldn’t believe how expensive it was to give birth. Luckily, I had no complications, but the bills from my brief hospital stay added to the financial hardship of caring for my new baby.

Eighteen years later, I was pregnant with my third child and worried that the costs would once again be too high for me. But this time I was able to participate in the SEIU 32BJ Health Fund maternity care program in partnership with Mt Sinai and my experience was 180 degrees from what had happened nearly two decades earlier.

Every last dollar of my prenatal and postnatal care was covered. I haven’t paid a single hospital bill out of pocket, which has been a huge relief, both emotionally and financially. My baby and I are happy and healthy, and I can now focus on saving for his future.

Unfortunately, not all New York moms are so lucky.

The Health Fund was prompted to create its maternity program in 2020 in response to alarming statistics about the danger of giving birth in New York. Nearly 20 women die per 100,000 live births in our state each year, a higher rate than the rest of the county, which already lags far behind other developed nations in this important category. And it’s especially dangerous for women of color. black women are more than twice likely to experience life-threatening complications during or after childbirth and eight times likely to die of pregnancy-related deaths.

Even when a pregnancy is routine and without complications, having a baby is still incredibly expensive — and the cost can vary widely depending on where you live, according to an analysis by the New York State Health Foundation. This is another reason why 32BJ’s No Co-Pay Maternity Program is so important and beneficial for working mothers.

It seems logical that a proven program with the potential to save lives should be scaled up and replicated in all five boroughs so that more mothers like me can benefit. But NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP), one of the city’s largest hospital systems, threatened the very existence of the program. NYP wanted the Fund to end the program to eliminate competition from other facilities in the area or allow NYP to offer it without guaranteeing the high quality standards that make the program so special.

A new law introduced in Albany, the Hospital Equity and Affordability Act (HEAL), will help rein in runaway hospital prices and curb anti-competitive contracting practices employed by hospital executives that block access to innovative care like the maternity program. Once passed and enacted, HEAL will enable the Health Fund to expand access to the program and establish a blueprint for other self-insured funds to follow in hospitals across the state.

At a time when new parents should be celebrating and bonding with their newborns, too many people worry instead about how to pay their hospital bills. Giving birth and caring for a child is stressful enough. More moms should be able to enjoy this life-changing experience like I did – without having to shell out a single penny for the highest quality care possible.

It is high time for the state to do all it can to improve outcomes for mothers and babies, especially mothers of color, who face unnecessary and life-threatening challenges when giving birth in New York City. Making HEAL law would be a good first step. I hope state lawmakers and the governor take action during this legislative session, so that more mothers can get the kind of care they need and deserve.

Shaunte Turner is a member of 32BJ SEIU and works in the cleaning division at Madison Square Garden.

Got an opinion idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.