Mississippi religious leaders: Extend Medicaid for new moms

Published 5:24 pm Monday, February 27, 2023

A diverse group of Mississippi religious leaders Monday called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to extend Medicaid coverage to women for a full year after birth.

The news conference by Working Together Mississippi came a day after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves reversed his own position on the issue. He said Sunday, for the first time, that he wants lawmakers to send him a bill that would allow a full year of postpartum Medicaid coverage, up from two months.

Reeves said he is willing to do so “as part of our new pro-life agenda.” He said more babies will be born because the U.S. Supreme Court upended abortion rights nationwide last year with a case that originated in Mississippi. Reeves is also seeking reelection this year, and Democrats have criticized his unwillingness to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage

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Standing on the steps of a cathedral near the Governor’s Mansion, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson read aloud a statement that he and Bishop Louis Kihneman of the Biloxi Diocese are sending lawmakers. It praised past actions “to protect the lives of unborn children.”

“However, the commitment to life must not end at birth,” the bishops’ statement said. “We believe that access to affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right.”

Rabbi Debra Kassoff of the Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville and organizer of Working Together Mississippi, said a full year of postpartum Medicaid coverage could lead to healthier mothers.

“As a leader in the Jewish community, I am mindful that I do not always stand in the same place as the bishops Kopacz and Kihneman on all issues having to do with reproductive health,” Kassoff said. “But at this time, when women’s choices and self-determination (are) being proscribed, it is all the more important that this essential postpartum healthcare be extended.”

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and about 60% of births in Mississippi are to women covered by Medicaid. The state also has high rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality, and Black woman are significantly more likely to have complications after pregnancy.

During the COVID-19 national public health emergency that began in 2020, states have been leaving people on Medicaid. That emergency is set to end in May.

The Mississippi governor chooses the leader of the Division of Medicaid, and Democratic lawmakers have pointed out that Reeves could use an executive order to expand postpartum coverage.

Religious leaders were asked Monday about the governor’s new stance on the issue.

“For all of the people of faith, we are accustomed to folks waiting ’til the last moment,” said Bishop Ronnie Crudup Sr. of the Fellowship of International Churches and head pastor of New Horizon Church International. “We welcome the governor’s remarks and his commitment that he has come to faith on this issue.”