Medicaid coverage for new mothers increases their chance of survival


Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act restricts abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and is at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that may lead to the long-awaited overturning of Roe v. Wade. Opponents of the pro-life law argue that Mississippi should not have passed such a law because the state has a high maternal mortality rate and doesn’t provide enough support for women. Two legislators in the state just helped fuel that pro-abortion argument.

When the Trump administration declared the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency, people on Medicaid received continuous coverage, ending any concern that they would lose their health care during the pandemic. Congress allowed for postpartum benefits that include 12 months of coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program under the American Rescue Plan. It is estimated that 720,000 pregnant and postpartum women became eligible for this on April 1. There is an option for states to extend that coverage but states must amend their Medicaid plans and receive federal approval to do so. Research shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with a decrease of 6.65 in maternal mortality (including late maternal deaths) per 100,000 live births compared to states that did not expand Medicaid coverage.

In February, Mississippi’s Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to continue with expanded Medicaid coverage for postpartum women. The current coverage includes all nine months of pregnancy plus 60 days after giving birth, but Senate Bill 2033 aimed to extend that postpartum coverage to one full year. After the bill passed the House Medicaid Committee on March 1, House Speaker Philip Gunn and House Medicaid Chairman Joey Hood decide not to put the bill up for a vote, killing it because, as Gunn explained, “[…] I’m opposed to Medicaid expansion. We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on. When you talk about these young ladies, the best thing we can do for them is to provide and improve educational opportunities for them.”

READ: A new mom had to return to work when her baby was 12 days old. Then strangers showed up in a big way.

Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is 29 deaths per 100,000 live births, above the national average of 23.8 (a rate that continues to increase). In 2020, about 60% of women who gave birth in the state were on Medicaid. In the past, more than one-third of maternal deaths have occured after six weeks postpartum in Mississippi, a date that comes just two weeks shy of when Medicaid coverage will be cut off for new mothers. Without health care coverage, these mothers may not visit a doctor when experiencing symptoms such as headaches, which could indicate postpartum preeclampsia.

In Mississippi, women die from pregnancy-related issues such as cardiomyopathy, depression-related suicide, infection, stroke, and thrombotic pulmonary embolism four months to more than six months following delivery. If a woman begins to experience symptoms after her 60 days on Medicaid are up, she may not seek out help, increasing her risk of serious health complications and death.

While educational opportunities would prove to be an advantage for mothers, and Gunn did author the pro-life House Bill 1685 to provide a $3.5 million tax credit to pregnancy centers, it is difficult to attend school while parenting a newborn and holding down a full-time job so that you have health insurance — especially if you are a single mother. Access to Medicaid for that year postpartum would allow new mothers the freedom to seek out health care when they need it and continue their education. Taking health care coverage away from new mothers would put their health and lives at risk and reduce their ability to access the educational opportunities that may be available to them. It would also reduce the time they spend bonding with their baby and breastfeeding their baby. This extended Medicaid coverage is not meant to last a lifetime, but it could help mothers live and babies thrive.

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