Mississippi joins rest of the nation, extends postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, discusses health care legislation during a news conference in his office at the state Capitol in Jackson, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

After three years of debate, Mississippi joined the rest of the United States by extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers beyond 60 days.

The proposal, which had passed the Senate multiple times in recent sessions, passed the House 89-29 after reaching the chamber floor for the first time.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who had previously opposed extension, announced last week that he supported it and would sign it, citing the need to support mothers following the state's ban on abortions.

"The debate surrounding the future of those benefits has been fierce. And, to be perfectly honest, I haven't been swayed by the data that is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, often misconstrued and mischaracterized by the 'more government benefits no matter the cost' crowd," Reeves said. "However, the fact is we live in a post-Dobbs world. We, as Mississippi conservatives, led the charge to end Roe v. Wade and I couldn't be more proud of that victory.

"That legal victory ensures that more babies will be born in this great state and this great country. I believe that to be 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 to do things that make us 'philosophically uncomfortable.'"

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Postpartum Medicaid coverage was extended to 12 months at the federal level as a part of COVID-19 relief legislation, but that coverage expires in April, leaving many states scrambling to pass their own laws ensuring coverage. If Reeves does sign the bill into law, Mississippi will no longer be the only state to neither extend postpartum coverage past 60 days or expanded Medicaid under the affordable care act. Wyoming had shared that distinction with the Magnolia State until last week, when its governor signed a law extending postpartum coverage to 12 months.

Some states, like Texas, have passed laws extending coverage past 60 days, but short of 12 months.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, who will step away from the legislature after this term, had long opposed extension bills and prevented them from reaching the chamber floor. Gunn voted against the bill.

After years of disagreements between Senate and House leadership, the bill advanced on the House floor with little debate. In previous sessions, it had passed the Senate but failed to even be discussed by the House Medicaid committee. That changed this year, when chair Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, brought it to the committee, who quickly supported it. Hood said he and Gunn had been waiting for the state Division of Medicaid to issue an opinion on whether postpartum extension was a form of Medicaid expansion. After Reeves endorsed the idea, Division of Medicaid Executive Director Drew Snyder sent them such a letter.

"I had been asking, and so had Speaker Gunn, had been asking about an opinion on postpartum coverage," Hood said after the bill passed committee. "We received a letter from Drew Snyder yesterday. He said it would be beneficial ... He thought it was extension not expansion."

Medicaid coverage is likely to be a major issue in Mississippi's statewide elections this year.

Reeves is likely to face Democratic Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, who has vowed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover those up to 133% of the poverty level. Reeves staunchly opposes such an expansion. Presley celebrated Reeves' decision to back a postpartum extension.

"To see those who have consistently blocked postpartum care for mothers finally come around is a good thing regardless of politics. It is long overdue. Now, let’s complete the package and extend Medicaid to working families and save more lives. As Governor, I will get it done," Presley tweeted last week.

In the race for lieutenant governor, current Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Hosemann has long been a proponent of an extension of coverage for new mothers, while McDaniel voted against it on the Senate floor last month.

The bill's passage is a win not just for Hosemann and other state senators, but also for members of the state's medical community who have repeatedly testified before Senate committees that extending coverage would have a positive impact on Mississippi mothers and young children.

In an October hearing of the Senate Study Committee on Women, Children and Families, Community Health Center Association of Mississippi CEO Terrence M. Shirley was surprised not to be asked directly about extension.

"You didn't ask me the question I thought you were going to ask me," Shirley said.

"What is that?" committee chair Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, asked.

Shirley's answer was short and direct.

"Twelve months," he said.

"Well we certainly like to hear that," Boyd said.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi likely to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months