Mississippi backs 1 year of postpartum Medicaid for new moms

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Low-income new mothers in Mississippi will be eligible for a full year of Medicaid health coverage under a bill passed Tuesday by the state Legislature.

The bipartisan move is the culmination of a two-year effort to convince a majority of the Republican-controlled House to provide longer postpartum coverage in one of the poorest states in the U.S. Republican proponents said change was a necessary after the U.S. Supreme Court upended abortion rights nationwide by overturning Roe v. Wade last year using the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which arose from Mississippi.

Republican Rep. Missy McGee said women’s health issues should not be “political chess pieces.”

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“This reflects a policy and legislative effort that has been ongoing for several years now,” McGee said. “And this year, as we find ourselves in a post-Dobbs era, the need exists to both strengthen the social safety net and modernize our approach for helping our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Gov. Tate Reeves, who announced his support for the policy on Feb. 26 after avoiding taking a public position for months, has promised to sign the bill. The governor is seeking reelection and Democrats have hammered his unwillingness to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage beyond the 60 days allowed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The matter was less pressing until now because emergency Medicaid coverage extended by federal mandate is ending in May.

Reeves said longer Medicaid coverage after birth is part of the state’s “new pro-life agenda.”

The day after Reeves’ announcement, House Speaker Philip Gunn said he would allow the House Medicaid Committee to consider the legislation.

State senators voted for the policy last year, but it failed in the House under Gunn’s opposition. The speaker said he did not want to advance anything that might be seen as a full expansion Medicaid. The Senate passed the policy again this year.

Reeves, Gunn and many other Mississippi Republicans remain opposed to allowing Medicaid coverage for people working low-wage jobs that don’t provide health insurance. Mississippi was among 11 states that for years declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. The issue is being widely revisited as pandemic-era protections expire.

On Tuesday, McGee was careful to say the bill only extends postpartum coverage for 12 months; it does not fully expand Medicaid.

The bill passed 89-29, with all the opposition coming from Republicans. Gunn, who is serving his final session in the Legislature, voted “no.”

“These are the kinds of victories that are possible when we come together and use our collective voice to fight for the policies that benefit us and refuse to let politicians use those policies to drive a deeper wedge between us,” House Minority Leader Robert Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons said in a joint statement.

Medicaid pays for about 60% of births in Mississippi. The state has high rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and pre-term births — figures the state health department said would improve by extending Medicaid coverage for new moms. Black women are significantly more likely to have complications after pregnancy.

“This bill demonstrates that we as policymakers also recognize that our commitment to life cannot end once the baby takes his or her first breath and is outside of the womb,” McGee said.