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‘This Is Not Expansion’: Mississippi Senate Trying to Revive Postpartum Medicaid Bill Gunn Killed

Kevin Blackwell in a black suit standing in the capitol
Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, wants to revive a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid benefits. He has the support of the Senate, but would need the assent of Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton. File photo courtesy Sen. Kevin Blackwell/Twitter

Mississippi Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, hasn’t given up on the postpartum Medicaid extension, yet. New mothers in Mississippi would be eligible for 12 months of Medicaid coverage if the bill could make it through the Legislature. Last week, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, put S.B. 2033 down for the second year in a row, letting it die on the calendar in spite of broad bipartisan support.

Blackwell, the bill’s sponsor, says it could pass convincingly if only allowed a floor vote. “It will definitely pass again in the Senate, and if the speaker will let his membership vote, I believe it’ll pass over in the House,” Blackwell told the Mississippi Free Press in a March 22 interview. 

Although the original bill died with a March 9 deadline, Blackwell and the Senate still have a few opportunities to send the provisions in the bill back to the House. The Senate can amend bills from the House currently in conference between the two chambers that address the relevant sections of Mississippi Code to include the postpartum extension.

“I still have a bill which has the code sections in it. Separate from that, I went ahead and filed (another) resolution yesterday,” Blackwell said.

This second resolution, S.C. 588, would simply suspend legislative rules to allow reconsideration of the postpartum medicaid bill. Rules suspensions like this require two-thirds majority votes. The 46-5 vote margin S.B. 2033 saw earlier in the session would be more than enough to pass the resolution in the Senate if needed.

‘He Is Not Accurate’

Gunn followed his most recent decision to kill the Medicaid extension with comments equating the measure to Medicaid expansion, a taboo in GOP circles in Mississippi. “As I’ve said very publicly, I’m opposed to Medicaid expansion,” Gunn said on March 9. “We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on.” 

“With all due respect to the speaker,” Blackwell said on Tuesday, “He is not accurate with his presentation of this bill. This is not expansion … There’s not one single additional woman that would qualify for that benefit. All we’re doing is taking what benefit they currently have, which is only for 60 days, and pushing it out for 12 months.”

A photo of Philip Gunn with his hand stretched out while other lawmakers stand behind him
Speaker Philip Gunn let the bill die on the calendar, in spite of broad support, equating it to expansion of Medicaid. Photo by Ashton Pittman

That 12-month period is a critical time for the health of new mothers. The Mississippi Free Press has extensively covered the medical community’s conclusions on Mississippi’s nation-leading maternal mortality and the postpartum period that contributes to so many of the dangerous outcomes.

In a previous interview, Dr. Charlene Collier, OB-GYN and director of the Mississippi Maternal Mortality Committee, called the 60-day Medicaid cutoff an arbitrary line that endangered the lives of women. 

“There’s no single medical or biological point in time that 60 days is tied to,” Collier said, “where all of the risks related to pregnancy are complete and that a mother no longer needs any medical care that may relate to being pregnant or postpartum,”

The postpartum extension has numerous supporters in the House and Senate, including Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann himself, the Republican head of the Senate, who supports reviving and passing the bill this session.

“This is not Medicaid expansion; this is a good-faith effort to keep our babies healthy and our mothers healthy,” Hosemann said on March 14.

Clock Ticking on Postpartum Benefits

This session’s opportunity to extend the postpartum Medicaid benefits may be the last chance before the temporary extension ends. Federal pandemic protections extended the Medicaid availability for new mothers to 12 months, but when protective measures and financial support structures for the pandemic era end, it is likely that Medicaid provisions in Mississippi will return to the 60-day limit before next session.

“I believe (it will end this year),” Blackwell said. “It’s supposed to end right now at the end of April. I’m just speculating, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the feds move it to the end of September to coincide with the federal fiscal year.”

Either way, a session that closes without formally extending the benefit for Mississippians is likely to leave its Division of Medicaid with the responsibility of removing new mothers from Medicaid enrollment only 60 days after they give birth.

Blackwell says estimates of $6 million per year for the benefit extension are high, in his opinion, but that the cost of keeping the benefit after the pandemic would not outweigh the benefit—even the financial benefit.

“The infant’s going to be covered, but the mom doesn’t have (health) coverage,” he said. “Well, if she’s sick, she’s not gonna be able to take care of a baby. If she hasn’t had the proper care—and these ladies are … pregnant for at least six weeks before they even start receiving any services.”

“So they’re behind the curve to start with. The benefit will come with them being healthy and being able to take care of the babies.”

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