National News

Mississippi Extends Medicaid Benefits for Postpartum Care

(Photo: Getty Images)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Answering a recent call from Mississippi’s Catholic bishops, state legislators there have advanced a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a full year after they give birth.

The bill was advanced Feb. 28 by the Mississippi House Medicaid Committee via voice vote in its first legislative session of the year. Similar legislation has already passed the state Senate. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves this past week announced that he would sign the legislation if it came to his desk, a reversal from his previous opposition to the legislation.

Health experts have long recommended the policy change.

Last week, Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson and Bishop Louis Kihneman III, of Biloxi — the state’s Catholic bishops — wrote a letter to state legislative leaders explaining why more postpartum Medicaid coverage was important, touting it as lifesaving legislation.

“This simple change would save the lives of mothers at a minimal cost to Mississippi taxpayers,” the bishops wrote, citing that many fatal postpartum complications occur after the current 60-day postpartum Medicaid coverage provided by the state.

Mississippi is one of the poorest U.S. states, where Medicaid finances about 60% of births.

The state also has the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S., averaging 8.12 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from Sept. 30, 2022. The maternal mortality ratio in Mississippi is also high, at 36 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the state health department’s Maternal Mortality Report from 2017-2019 that was released last month.

Bishop Kopacz and Bishop Kihneman cited both statistics to show that “the health of new mothers and children are inextricably linked.” The bishops added that racial disparities are growing, with black women four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women in Mississippi, most of which could have been avoided with proper health care.

“The commitment to life must not end at birth,” Bishop Kopacz and Bishop Kihneman wrote. “We believe that access to affordable health care is a fundamental human right, one that is necessary for the flourishing of families and communities.”

The bishops went on to call it “heartbreaking” when health care is out of reach for those in need.

In announcing he would sign the legislation, Reeves highlighted the “post-Dobbs world” that now exists after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Mississippi is one of 13 states with a trigger law that made almost all abortions illegal once Roe was overturned.

“That legal victory ensures that more babies will be born into this great state and this great country. I believe that to be a beautiful thing,” Reeves said in a statement. “I also believe that added stress will be felt by Mississippi moms. We have to love them. We have to support them.”