In state with high infant mortality, Mississippi lawmakers say ‘no’ to postpartum Medicaid coverage

Published 6:21 am Wednesday, March 31, 2021

An effort to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage has failed in Mississippi, a state with high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality.

The state’s program usually has two months of coverage for women after giving birth. Physicians recommended extending coverage to a full year to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

Senators approved the extension earlier this year, but the provision was not included in the final version of a Medicaid bill that the House and Senate both passed Tuesday night.

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“Unfortunately, over on the House side, they didn’t have any appetite for it,” said Senate Medicaid Committee Chairman Kevin Blackwell, a Republican from DeSoto County.

Blackwell said Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S. with just over nine deaths per 1,000 births. He said the state has the 21st highest maternal mortality rate, with about 22 deaths per 100,000 women in the first few months after giving birth.

The Mississippi Division of Medicaid temporarily extended postpartum coverage to women who enrolled in the program while pregnant, with no time limit, as a condition of federal COVID-19 relief funding signed last year by then-President Donald Trump. But Blackwell and many other senators were looking for a long-term change.

A Kaiser Family Foundation Medicaid Budget Survey found that about 67% of all births in Mississippi in 2017 were covered by Medicaid.

As of March 1, a pregnant mother with no other children is eligible for Medicaid in Mississippi if her monthly income is less than $2,137. Pregnant girls or women younger than 19 can qualify for Medicaid, regardless of family income.

Medicaid comes up for review and reauthorization every few years, giving legislators a chance to discuss whether they want to expand or restrict the scope of services or to set potential cost-cutting measures. Senate Bill 2799, which passed Tuesday, authorizes the program to remain in operation through June 2024.

The bill goes to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. He generally does not comment on bills until he and his staff have reviewed them.

The bill specifies that rural hospitals with 50 or fewer beds would receive higher reimbursements from the state for providing services to Medicaid patients.

“We know how important a lot of our hospitals are,” said House Medicaid Committee Chairman Joey Hood, a Republican from Ackerman.

Medicaid is a health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled. It is paid by federal and state money. Because Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, it receives the most generous portions of federal funding. The federal government currently pays 84.5% of Medicaid expenses in Mississippi. The next-largest federal share goes to West Virginia, at nearly 81%.

Mississippi has about about 3 million residents, and Medicaid covers more than 752,000. That is 25% of the population. Medicaid payments help keep hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, nursing homes and other health facilities in business.