Mississippi lawmakers block expanded Medicaid coverage of postpartum care that saves lives

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Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn claimed he hadn't seen the data that shows Medicaid expansion saves lives.

While Mississippi waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the state's previability ban on abortion at 15 weeks' gestation, it has rejected efforts to improve health outcomes for pregnant people and babies. 

Mississippi Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has bragged about the 15-week ban, saying that if the Supreme Court upholds it, it will "save millions of lives" and "do something in the way of preserving human life." Yet Gunn killed a Mississippi House bill that would have expanded Medicaid coverage for people who have given birth and their babies.

Currently, people who give birth in Mississippi can only receive postpartum care through Medicaid for two months. A bill that would have extended that period to a year passed the GOP-controlled Senate with near-unanimous support earlier this month. Gunn refused to even bring the bill up for a hearing in the House of Representatives, saying, "I'm opposed to Medicaid expansion. We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on."

Mississippi has the highest rate of poverty in the country overall. As of 2020, 21.2% of working-age women lived below the poverty line, and 27.9% of children under 18 lived below the poverty line as well, and 60% of pregnant people in Mississippi are already on Medicaid.

The state's infant mortality rate is the highest in the nation, and its maternal mortality rate is one of the highest as well. Black people are almost three times as likely as white people to die of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related illness. A 2019 report from the Mississippi Department of Health examined the period from 2013 to 2016 and found that 19% of deaths related to pregnancy were linked to hypertension or cardiovascular conditions. Black women represented 80% of those cardiac-related deaths in that same time frame. 

Extending Medicaid coverage to one year post-birth would save the lives of Mississippians: That's the message hundreds of doctors in five medical associations in the state conveyed directly to Gunn and the House. The doctors noted that postpartum coverage includes several conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure, that can put people who have given birth at risk. Further, they said that 37% of pregnancy-related deaths occur over six weeks after giving birth, near the point at which Medicaid coverage expires. 

However, when he refused to allow a vote on the expansion bill, Gunn said he hadn't seen any data showing the expansion could save lives. This was despite the fact that the doctors sent their letter over two weeks before Gunn's refusal to bring it to the floor. Additionally, data on how expanding postpartum Medicaid helps save lives is readily available. The American Public Health Association issued an official statement calling for Medicaid expansion in all 50 states. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which does research and journalism on health care policy, provides extensive data that shows the importance of expanded postpartum coverage. The March of Dimes has been urging expanding postpartum care under Medicaid for years. 

So while Gunn is congratulating himself for saving "millions of lives" by pushing an unconstitutional previability abortion ban, he's ignoring the hard data that shows exactly how to save the lives of pregnant people in his state.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.