EDITORIAL: Lawmakers, extend postpartum care

Mar. 9—A bill to extend postpartum care for women on Medicaid is headed to the floor of the Missouri House after it was unanimously approved by a House committee; state lawmakers, including those from our area, should support and pass this measure.

Gov. Mike Parson's administration recommends extending the Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum. Previous testimony before lawmakers estimated 4,600 women a year would be helped by the bill.

Medicaid requires states to cover pregnancy and postpartum care for women with incomes up to 196% of the poverty guideline for at least 60 days after a birth. A provision in the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in 2021 allows states to extend postpartum coverage.

A report published last August by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and compiled by the state's Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review board assessed maternal deaths from 2017 to 2019. It found that each year an average of 61 Missouri women died while pregnant or within one year of pregnancy, putting the state's pregnancy-related mortality ratio at 25.2 deaths per 100,000 births. Overall, 74.5% of deaths were determined to be preventable — with more than half of those deaths occurring between 43 days and one year postpartum. Our state is one of the worst in the nation for maternal deaths — and infant deaths, with 6.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births versus 5.8 on average nationally.

We can do better. This bill will help keep Missouri mothers alive.

It is well past time that our lawmakers approve the measure. The General Assembly was set to pass a broadly supported bipartisan measure to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage in the last session, but delays caused by infighting — unrelated to the bill — among GOP members of the Senate doomed the measure. This session, the Senate recently passed a version of the bill that again has the potential to doom the care for new mothers. Language added to the Senate bill in the amendment process threatens the measure's viability by adding what opponents have called a "poison pill" to the bill. Even if lawmakers were to pass the Senate version and Parson to sign it, anti-abortion language inserted into the bill makes it unlikely to be accepted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency required to sign-off on the coverage.

The focus must remain on getting care for mothers, too many of whom are dying.

At a public hearing on the measure in January, Sam Lee, a longtime lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri, framed the extension of postpartum Medicaid as pro-life, according to the Missouri Independent. Lee noted women seeking abortions would typically not be enrolled in Missouri Medicaid for pregnant women in the first place, and so would not qualify for the extension of coverage.

We encourage lawmakers to pass the clean House version; the lives of new mothers are on the line.