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Medicaid For New Moms Could Last A Year—If House Speaker Doesn’t Block Bill

Missy McGee in a spotted top seen peaking at a mic
House Medicaid Committee member Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, said that passing legislation that would extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to a year is "the right thing for women and babies in Mississippi" during a committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. The committee advanced the bill to the House floor on a voice vote. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

New Mississippi mothers who cannot afford health insurance could continue receiving Medicaid for a year post-birth after Mississippi House lawmakers advanced a bill this morning that would extend coverage beyond the state’s current two-month limit. But Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn is still refusing to say whether he will allow a vote among all members on the House floor.

Mississippi Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, presented Senate Bill 2212 to the Mississippi House Medicaid Committee this morning. She said the policy is even more urgent since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization allowed the state to ban nearly all abortions.

“This legislative effort is something that we have worked on for several years now, and we find ourselves in this post-Dobbs era to both strengthen the social safety net and modernize our approach for helping our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” McGee said in her introduction. “This bill demonstrates that we as policymakers also recognize that our commitment to life cannot end once the baby takes his or her first breath.”

“Women who suffer from physical or mental health issues after giving birth have challenges when it comes to caring for their babies,” she added. “The bill also provides a very important, cost-effective approach for delivering care.”

Under current Mississippi law, the state only provides Medicaid coverage for new mothers for 60 days after they give birth. But since 2020, federal COVID-19 public-health emergency orders have required states to provide coverage for 12 months. Unless the postpartum extension bill becomes law, coverage will revert to 60 days when the federal emergency order expires on May 11.

“Twelve-month postpartum (care) reduces potential future preterm birth by increasing the spacing of pregnancies and improving the health of moms,” McGee said this morning. “By providing the year of postpartum care, we prioritize the prevention of premature birth and improving maternal health.”

The committee advanced S.B. 2212 on a voice vote, keeping it alive beyond today’s legislative deadline to advance bills out of committee. It must still get a vote on the House floor and earn approval from a majority of the Mississippi House and the governor’s signature before it can become law. The Mississippi Senate previously passed it on a 41-11 vote on Feb. 7.

The Mississippi Free Press reported in 2021 that about 25,000 Mississippi mothers rely on Medicaid to cover pregnancy each year.

‘We Live In A Post-Dobbs World’

Though the Senate president, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, has backed postpartum Medicaid extension for years, other top Republicans have not. Since Sunday, though, Gov. Tate Reeves has relented in his opposition and House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, reversed his previous refusal to allow a committee vote on it. The speaker killed the legislation in committee in 2021 and 2022, following successful votes in the Senate.

Last year, Gunn described the postpartum extension as a form of Medicaid expansion, telling the Associated Press that he “we need to look for ways to keep people off (Medicaid), not put them on.” S.B. 2212 sponsor Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, lamented last year that Mississippi has “done an excellent job of protecting the baby in the womb, but once it’s out of the womb it’s like, ‘Whoop!’ You’re on your own.”

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves speaking at a podium on the steps of the State Capitol of MIssissippi
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2023, that extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to 12 months “will not be easy and it will not be free,” but that “it will be worth it, as more children of God are brought into the world!” AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

As recently as last week, the legislation looked like it might die in committee this year, too. Brandon Presley, the Democratic public service commissioner who is challenging Reeves for governor this year, taunted the incumbent on social media, tweeting that he was “evading the issue” and “doesn’t have the guts to push postpartum care for mothers.”

That changed three days later, when Reeves announced on his social-media accounts that he had changed his mind. He cited the fact that “we live in a Post-Dobbs world,” referring to the State’s victory in the U.S. Supreme Court last year that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed Mississippi to implement a near-total abortion ban.

State health officials estimated last year that the ban will result in 5,000 additional yearly births in the state, which boasts high infant and maternal mortality rates.

“We, as Mississippi conservatives, led the charge to end Roe vs. Wade, and I couldn’t be more proud of that victory,” Reeves wrote on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday. “That legal victory ensures that more babies will be born into this great state and this great country. I believe that is a beautiful thing. 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 do do things that make us ‘philosophically.’”

The governor said he still has not “been swayed by data” on the postpartum Medicaid extension that he considers “at best, incomplete and, at worst, often misconstrued and mischaracterized by the ‘more government benefits no matter the costs’ crowd.” Still, he said he is “willing to do that as part of our new pro-life agenda.”

“As I’ve said many times, it will not be easy and it will not be free,” Reeves wrote. “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, I will sign it into law.”

During the House Medicaid Committee meeting this morning, Rep. McGee noted that Snyder estimates the extension will cost the state about $7 million per year.

Gunn Says He May Not Allow House Floor Vote

On Monday, Speaker Gunn said he would not block lawmakers from advancing it to a vote on the House floor. The Daily Journal’s Taylor Vance reported Monday that the speaker attributed his change of heart to a letter from Division of Medicaid Director Drew Snyder saying that the policy would be “a suitable approach for Mississippi.”

“What has changed is the position of the Department of Medicaid,” Gunn said. “They indicate they are now OK with the policy, and they don’t deem it as (Medicaid) expansion.”

a close up photo of house speaker philip gunn's face
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn told SuperTalk radio host Paul Gallo on Feb. 28, 2023, that, despite allowing a committee to advance a postpartum Medicaid extension bill, he could still block it from getting a full vote on the Mississippi House floor. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

In an interview with SuperTalk radio host Paul Gallo on Monday, though, Gunn cast doubt on whether he will allow the full House to vote on S.B. 2212.

“I notice on your website here you say Speaker Gunn’s going to let the people vote,” the speaker told Gallo. “Well, we’ve not decided to do that yet. We’ve decided to move the bill out of committee and keep it alive. The deadline is today, by the way, the deadline to move bills out of committee. So, that’s where things stand.”

But even though the bill is out of committee, Gunn told Gallo that does not mean he will allow a vote on it on the House floor. “It means it goes to the calendar of the House floor and it sits on the calendar until it’s taken up.”

‘Still Waiting On That Robust Post-Dobbs Agenda’

The move drew condemnation from some conservative corners of the GOP, including the Mississippi House Freedom Caucus. After Gov. Reeves announced his new position on the issue, House Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, wrote that the postpartum extension “does not help mothers or children.”

“It only gives empty suit politicians a fake campaign talking point,” the DeSoto County politician tweeted, criticizing Reeves for changing his position both on the Medicaid policy and on changing the state flag in 2020.

Rep. Omeria Scott speaking to a committee
During a Mississippi House Medicaid Committee meeting on extending postpartum Medicaid from two months to 12 months, Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, right, said that if leaders only decided to extend care for “political” reasons, “we all got to sit at the judgment seat.” Photo by Kayode Crown

Despite supporting the legislation, Mississippi House Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson of Jackson, similarly expressed skepticism over the governor’s “11th-hour endorsement of extending postpartum Medicaid coverage.” In a statement, the party called it “craven political theater” and a “last-ditch effort to save face on an issue that the vast majority of Mississippians support.”

“We’re still waiting on that robust post-Dobbs agenda—because so far it seems to be comprised entirely of vague platitudes and empty promises,” the House Democrats said in their Feb. 26 statement. “But if this is the best the governor can do for Mississippi’s mothers and babies, we’ll take it.”

Since January, two polls have found that a majority of Mississippians support the kind of broader Medicaid expansion policy that Reeves and Gunn still oppose. Those same polls showed a close race between Reeves and Presley.

“To see those who have consistently blocked postpartum care for mothers finally come around is a good thing regardless of politics,” Presley wrote in a tweet on Monday. “It is long overdue. Now, let’s complete the package and extend Medicaid to working families and save more lives.”

At the Mississippi House Medicaid Committee meeting this morning, Reps. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, and John W. Hines Jr., D-Greenville, suggested that Gunn and Reeves have political motives for endorsing the policy now.

“I’m glad that this legislation is before us for whatever reason. If it is political, then you know, we all got to sit at the judgment seat,” Scott said.

Hines called it “a shame when we have to wait until the political wind turns and somebody feels like they’re not going to be reelected to do something like this.”

“And this is a moment that we should be celebrating the lives of women who actually bring life, but yet it is a political ploy in this process,’ he said. “So, I’m supporting this legislation cause it’s the right thing to do, but I am appalled that the leadership of this state has waited until their backs are against the wall and they do the right thing by taking care of women in this state, and somebody feel like they’re not going to be reelected to do something like this.”

Dr. Anita Henderson speaks at a podium while several other doctors listen from behind
Dr. Anita Henderson, a pediatrician who previously served as the president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, joined dozens of physicians and medical school students who called on lawmakers to pass a postpartum Medicaid extension bill during a press conference in the Mississippi Capitol rotunda on Feb. 22, 2023. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Days before Reeves and Gunn’s sudden switch, a group of physicians and medical students gathered in the Capitol on Feb. 22 to urge lawmakers to pass the postpartum Medicaid extension.

WLBT reported that Dr. Anita Henderson, a Hattiesburg pediatrician who previously served as the head of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, noted that “Medicaid covers actually 65% of all births in Mississippi.”

“So, even if you don’t have Medicaid or did not have Medicaid for your pregnancy, it is highly likely that you know someone who does,” she said.

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