Medicaid coverage for new moms receiving support in GOP states

WASHINGTON (AP) — After years of refusing to expand Medicaid benefits for new moms, Republican officials in more than half a dozen states are now reversing course and trumpeting that coverage is central to their conservative anti-abortion agenda.

The shift in GOP support for postpartum Medicaid coverage comes in some states that have severely limited or banned abortion access after The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion last June. The effort also comes as federal protections that keep people on Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire in a few weeks.

Deep red Mississippi became the latest state on Tuesday require Medicaid to provide coverage to low-income mothers for the entire year after childbirth. A few days earlier, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves announced that the policy was part of the state’s “new pro-life agenda.”

State lawmakers have rejected expanding postpartum coverage three times since 2021, but the measure succeeded after the U.S. Supreme Court made most abortions illegal in Mississippi.

In Wyoming, where the abortion ban remains in legal limbo, Republican Gov. Mark Gordon echoed a similar refrain when he signed a bill Friday to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage, calling it a “landmark piece of pro-life legislation.”

The Biden administration is encouraging all states to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for up to a full year, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.

“Postnatal care is critical to women’s health and well-being and can benefit their babies and their families,” she said. “In addition to comprehensive pregnancy and postpartum care, reproductive health is essential to maintaining the health of women and families.”

Republicans, however, have long criticized efforts to expand Medicaid, the taxpayer-funded program that provides health care to about 84 million of the nation’s poorest people.

Approximately 40% of births covered by Medicaid, and states are required to keep women enrolled for two months after giving birth. Most states have already expanded Medicaid coverage, guaranteeing access to the program within a year of a woman’s birth.

Such coverage can be critical in a country where maternal deaths – many of which occur in the days or months after birth – grow. The study found that women were less likely to be hospitalized postpartum if they lived in a state that expanded Medicaid coverage to those with slightly higher incomes.

Mothers who are cut off from Medicaid after 60 days may not only lose access to their insurance, but also the doctors they’ve built relationships with throughout the pregnancy, said Laura Ware, a New York University economics professor who researches Medicaid expansion.

“Many of these maternal deaths occur after that period when Medicaid pregnancy coverage ends,” Weary said. “There are a number of different ways in which expanding coverage can affect women and their health and mortality outcomes.”

But 13 states championed expanding postpartum coverage within a year, a decision that was met with more criticism when some of those states restricted or banned abortions last year.

Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Idaho and South Dakota are among the states that have largely banned abortions and offer women only 60 days of postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, proposed a budget last month that would extend postpartum coverage by up to a year, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has shown little interest in supporting the plan.

Republicans in other states, however, are now quick to push for expanded coverage.

South Dakota Gov. Christy Noem, a Republican who has long opposed expanding the income threshold for Medicaid to those making up to $18,800 a year, announced in February that she would seek to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.

In Alaska, where abortion is still legal, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced legislation earlier this year to do the same. Meanwhile, Idaho State Representative Megan Blanksma, a Republican, proposed similar legislation for her state in February.

last week, The Missouri Senate signed off on the plan extend postpartum coverage for a year. The bill will now be considered in the House of Representatives.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Cindy O’Loughlin wouldn’t have had the support in years past, the lawmaker told reporters just last week.

“Up until now, I probably would have said, ‘I don’t want to expand welfare,'” O’Loughlin said. But she has since changed her tune, saying that without Medicaid coverage, “the child or children will suffer the most.”

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