Mississippi House leaders kill postpartum Medicaid extension

Published 10:30 am Thursday, March 10, 2022

Republican leaders of the Mississippi House killed a bill Wednesday that would have let mothers keep Medicaid coverage for a year after giving birth, up from the current two months.

Supporters said extending coverage under the government health insurance program could help reduce Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate, which is significantly higher than the national rate.

“A healthy child needs a healthy parent,” said Democratic Rep. Bryant Clark of Pickens, who backed the bill.

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Senate Bill 2033 passed the Republican-controlled Senate 46-5 on Feb. 2.

The bill passed the House Medicaid Committee March 1 but died Wednesday when House Speaker Philip Gunn and House Medicaid Committee Chairman Joey Hood chose not to bring it up for a vote. Wednesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to consider general bills that had passed the other chamber.

Gunn told The Associated Press he did not want anything that would appear to be a broader expansion of Medicaid. Mississippi is one of a dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid to working people whose jobs do not provide health insurance. The expansion is an option under the federal health overhaul signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2010.

“As I’ve said very publicly, I’m opposed to Medicaid expansion,” Gunn said Wednesday. “We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on.”

Gunn said he is aware Mississippi has a high maternal mortality rate, but he has not seen data showing that extending postpartum coverage would save money. Asked whether it could save lives, Gunn said: “That has not been a part of the discussions that I’ve heard.”

Hood, a Republican from Ackerman, would not answer questions Wednesday about why he did not seek a House vote on the bill.

“We’ll continue to look at that issue in the next session,” Hood said.

Cassandra Welchlin, executive director of Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, sharply criticized Gunn and Hood for killing the bill. She noted Gunn has campaigned as “pro-life” because of his support for abortion restrictions.

“They quite possibly killed moms who won’t have access to health coverage to address issues that may arise after giving birth,” Welchlin said.

About 60% of births in Mississippi in 2020 were financed by Medicaid, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tracks health statistics. Only Louisiana had a higher rate, at 61%.

The Mississippi State Department of Health issued a report in April 2019 about maternal mortality in the state from 2013 to 2016. A committee of physicians, nurses and others examined deaths that occurred during pregnancy or up to one year of the end of pregnancy.

The report said for those years, Mississippi had 33.2 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was 1.9 times higher than the U.S. ratio of 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The report also found the Black women had 51.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. The numbers for white women were 18.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.

It found cardiovascular conditions and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy were the two most common causes of pregnancy-related death in Mississippi. About 11% of all maternal deaths were from suicides and overdoses, and 86% of pregnancy-related deaths occurred after birth, including 37% after six weeks.

“Given the number of postpartum deaths, extend Medicaid eligibility for the postpartum period from 60 days to one year after delivery,” the report recommended.