Mississippi mothers could soon lose access to health care at a critical postpartum period after a measure to extend their Medicaid coverage died in the state House of Representatives.
The Republican-led attempt to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers by a year was passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate last month. Legislators who supported the statement and health advocates cited the state’s high maternal and infant mortality rates as one reason the extension was needed.
The House of Representatives ended the measure Wednesday without a vote, likely meaning that the 60% of pregnant Mississippi women who receive Medicaid will lose their health insurance just two months after giving birth — a period when they still have a significant amount of money to cover Complications from pregnancy are at risk of death.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion, told Mississippi Today that he views the bill in that light.
“I think there were differing views on whether this expands Medicaid,” Gunn said. “I’ve made it very clear that I’m against expanding Medicaid and that I believe we should be working to move people away from Medicaid rather than adding more people.”
But the measure would not have added anyone to Medicaid in Mississippi. It would have just allowed pregnant women who already qualify for Medicaidto receive health care for another 10 months.
Requests for comment from Rep. Joey Hood, chair of the House Medicaid Committee, were not responded to. He said Associated Press lawmakers would do so go back to the problem next meeting.
Sponsor Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, framed the legislation as a way to protect children in the state with those of the country highest infant mortality rate.
“All I’m saying is that we protect (children) in the womb.” Blackwell said during the debate on the bill earlier this year. “Let’s protect her up to a year out of the womb.”
Blackwell also noted that Mississippi is asking the US Supreme Court to resolve Roe v. Wade and uphold his law banning abortions after 15 weeks. He described his legislation as hostile to life. On Wednesday afternoon, he told Mississippi Today he was disappointed the measure was dead for the second year in a row.
“While infants are still covered under Medicaid, mothers lose coverage after 60 days,” he wrote in a statement. “All that bill would have done was continue that coverage for a total of 12 months.”
Gunn, who is also staunchly anti-abortion, deflected and reiterated the expansion of Medicaid when asked if Senate Republicans would draft the measure as pro-life.
“Our position on expansion is clear,” said Gunn.
Maternal and child health advocates and doctors in Mississippi were optimistic that the law would be passed to ensure mothers covered by Medicaid would have access to essential health care during their baby’s first year of life.
On Wednesday they were frustrated and angry.
“I feel like they’re playing politics with women’s lives,” said Cassandra Welchlin, co-convenor and state leader of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable. The organization had championed SB 2033 and Welchlin thought they had the votes to see them off.
“A failure that will deny mothers the health care they need,” said one of the bill’s co-authors, Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. wrote on Twitter.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government required that Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and other beneficiaries last as long as the public health emergency persists. But that statement, last extended in January, could ends on April 16th.
A Health Department Report 2019 on Maternal Mortality in the state found that nearly 40% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Mississippi from 2013 to 2016 occurred more than six weeks after delivery. Heart disease and high blood pressure were the two leading causes of death. Black women in Mississippi are three times more likely when white women die from pregnancy-related complications.
dr Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said pediatricians, obstetricians and primary care physicians will continue to advocate for Medicaid extensions after childbirth.
“Extending coverage to 12 months would help save lives by giving mothers access to much-needed health services, including treatment for postpartum depression, asthma, diabetes and other conditions that put mothers and their babies at risk,” she wrote in a statement to Mississippi today.
Some lawmakers also questioned Gunn’s handling of the bill.
“He’s a man,” said Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, a member of the House Medicaid Committee. “Why doesn’t he let the process run?”
This point represents the expansion of Medicaid in general, Scott added.
“He shouldn’t have a one-man veto when there’s poll after poll out there 60%-plus people say they want to expand Medicaid.”
Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. But many of these states, almost all in the South, have enacted legislation to ensure Medicaid coverage for at least six months after birth. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee did so in 2021.
This year is Alabama plan to expand coverage up to a year after birth.
On Wednesday, Welchlin said she was thinking of the Mississippi blacks and browns she met as she advocated for women’s access to health care. Many of them are working mothers who do not receive health care through their work and cannot afford to buy it themselves. And she thought especially of the black women of Mississippi, who have died disproportionately from pregnancy-related complications.
“They’re gone, and then their kids stay with family members,” she said.
Reporter Geoff Pender contributed to this story.