Governor Tate Reeves issued a statement on February 26, calling for the MS Legislature to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage for up to 12 months which is the opposite of his position previously. In 2019, when he was elected as governor, Reeves promised those who voted for him that he would say “no” to Medicaid expansion.
Currently, in Mississippi the coverage for new mothers ends after 60 days postpartum. The legislative battle for the expansion of Medicaid has lasted since Barack Obama was president and the Affordable Care Act was passed. In recent years, the COVID-19 crisis has acted as a catalyst for some to push for postpartum coverage up to twelve months.
During the 2022 legislative session, several women- and children- focused organizations, in addition to community-based and -focused organizations, have advocated to House and Senate leadership for the passage of this legislation. Dr. Anita Henderson, MD, a pediatrician in Hattiesburg and past president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “We urge the House Medicaid Committee to pass SB2212 and then allow a full vote on the House floor. This issue has bipartisan support and would benefit tens of thousands of moms and babies in Mississippi.”
On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to essentially dissolve Roe vs. Wade which protected a woman’s right to have an abortion (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization), that debate has increased in the 2023 session. The recent battle seeks to propel the issue of postpartum coverage up to 12 months for mothers and their infant babies to the forefront.
In his statement, Governor Reeves said, “I also believe that added stress will be felt by more Mississippi moms. We have to love them. We have to support them. And – in a post-Dobbs world – we may even have to be willing to do things that make us ‘philosophically uncomfortable.’ I’m willing to do that as part of our new pro-life agenda. As l’ve said many times, it will not be easy and it will not be free. But it will be worth it, as more children of God are brought into the world! The legislature should pass a law continuing this 12 months of postpartum coverage…and, if they do, l will sign it into law. I don’t expect all of my friends to agree with this decision. But I make it – as always – because l believe in my heart it is the right thing to do for Mississippi Moms given the facts as I see them today May God bless Mississippi!”
The ball is now in the hands of Speaker Philip Gunn and House Chairman Rep. Joey Hood. Before Gov. Reeves’ social media statement, the legislation had not been called up or out of committee in the House, and it seemed as if there was no hope for supporters of this legislation. The old saying, “It’s not dead until it is dead dead dead” applies here. For example, if legislators want to, there are some parliamentary procedures that could be exhausted to bring the bill to the floor for debate and passage.
In the 2023 legislative session, Senate Chairman of Medicaid, Senator Kevin Blackwell, has continued to be an advocate for the coverage of mothers and their babies by hosting hearings discussing the issue. After the passage of the postpartum legislation, Blackwell stated, “I think today was the milestone for Mississippi in protecting women’s health and that of their babies. Overall, the program should actually reduce the cost. Medicaid is currently paying for ICU care of premature babies as well as reducing maternal mortality. This is a right step for Mississippi.”
Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana have extended coverage for at least 12 months postpartum. Mississippi and Wyoming have not expanded Medicaid or Medicaid postpartum coverage for 12 months. Mississippi’s pregnancy mortality rate is 36 per 100,000 births, almost twice as the national rate in the country. According to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health, maternity mortality in Mississippi, which is defined as pregnancy-related deaths, rose by 10% in three years (2017-2019).
Faith leaders are among the many calling on legislators to expand care for mothers and children. On February 27, a consortium of faith-based organizations held a press conference on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral in downtown Jackson to rally support for Medicaid postpartum coverage for 12 months. “We all need to be reminded that healthcare is not a privilege, it’s a right,” Rev. Warren Coile proclaimed. These faith leaders are among community champions that have supported the passage for the last two years.
Executive Director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable Cassandra Welchlin, was also present at the press conference. She expressed, “Moms, especially Black moms of Mississippi, shouldn’t be caught in the fray of politics when their lives depend on it and their babies depend on them. Moms are dying at higher rates in this state than anywhere else in the country. While we are glad that the state leadership has decided to extend postpartum care, I want to make it clear that lives could have been saved years ago because the Governor has always had the authority to direct the Division of Medicaid to extend postpartum care. Let’s be about supporting strong babies and healthy moms.”
Black women are 4 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in Mississippi, according to MSDH. African American mothers’ pregnancy-related deaths rose from 51.9 to 65.1 per 100,000 while white mothers declined from 18.9 to 16.2 per 100,000.
As mentioned above, the responsibility is now in the hands of Speaker Philip Gunn and Rep. Joey Hood called a committee meeting where the bill was voted on and has passed. There is no official word on when it will come to the House Floor.