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House sends extended postpartum Medicaid coverage to governor

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House sends extended postpartum Medicaid coverage to governor

Mar 07, 2023 | 9:17 am ET
By Geoff Pender/Mississippi Today
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The House on Tuesday sent Gov. Tate Reeves a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers in Mississippi from 60 days to a year.

Reeves, who for more than a year refused to endorse the idea, recently announced he would sign it into law. His election year announcement coincided with recent polls that showed widespread, bipartisan support for the extended coverage. This would make Mississippi the last state in the country to provide extended services to new mothers through federal-state Medicaid coverage.

The extension of services, pushed by Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Senate leaders, is an effort to ameliorate Mississippi’s high rates of infant and maternal mortality and help the state’s ailing health care system cope with an expected boom of thousands more births a year from a ban on abortions.

But for more than a year the measure, which would cost the state about $7 million a year to draw down more than $30 million a year in federal dollars, was caught up in internecine Republican political feuding.

“This is the right thing to do for babies and mothers,” Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, said to her colleagues before Tuesday’s vote. “I don’t think something involving mothers’ or babies’ health should ever be a political chess piece.”

The House’s 89-29 vote to pass Senate Bill 2212 came after Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who had previously killed similar measures including one authored by McGee, without a vote, did an about face on the issue after Reeves’ announcement. Gunn had lumped the measure in with broader Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor, which he and Reeves have staunchly opposed and thwarted for years.

There was very little debate or questioning of the measure on Tuesday before its passage by the House, and no attempts at amendments, which would have held it for more debate and votes. Rep. Steve Hopkins, R-Southaven, made a motion to table the bill, which would have likely killed it with a looming deadline, but his motion was defeated by a voice vote.

Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, who also voted against the bill, briefly questioned McGee as she handled its passage on the floor. He questioned Mississippi’s Medicaid coverage for pregnant women. More than 60% of Mississippi births are to mothers on Medicaid coverage.

“It doesn’t matter your net worth, or how much money you make, if your pregnant, you’re eligible for Medicaid, right?” Eubanks said. “If you are a woman in Mississippi and pregnant you can choose to be on the state’s dime.”

McGee responded that only mothers making at or below 194% of the federal poverty level are eligible.

“Do you want to know what that level is?” McGee said. “It’s $26,300 for one, or $35,521 for a family of two.”

Eubanks said, “My understanding must be wrong.”

While the bill garnered some Republican support, 29 of the House’s 77 Republicans, including Gunn, voted against it, with one not voting and one absent.

Hosemann on Tuesday said the measure is “a great example of post-Dobbs (Supreme Court abortion ruling), pro-life policy.”

“The Mississippi Senate, particularly Senator Kevin Blackwell and Senator Nicole Boyd, has championed legislation to extend postpartum care for mothers from 60 days to 12 months as most other states have done. This hard work has paid off. We appreciate the House passing Senate Bill 2212. When we have healthy mothers, we have healthy babies …”

House and Senate minority leaders, Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, and Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, issued a statement after the House vote. They continue to advocate for full Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act to cover the working poor in Mississippi and help hospitals on the brink of closure.

“Postpartum Medicaid extension … is a very good thing for Mississippi,” they wrote. “We’re grateful for the advocates and the medical professionals who fought tirelessly to ensure this moment would come to pass, and for the many Mississippians who spoke out to let our state’s elected leaders know that Mississippi’s moms and babies deserve better … We’re also acutely aware that there is so much more work to be done. This legislation won’t protect the Mississippi hospitals on the brink of closure. It won’t ease a parent’s mind that there’s an emergency room nearby should their child need one. It won’t provide healthcare to the nearly 300,000 working Mississippians without basic medical care. And it’s only the first step in beginning to address our third-world infant and maternal mortality rates.”

As lawmakers worked Tuesday to meet a Wednesday deadline, the House also voted on:

Senate Bill 2079 to create a program for trained, armed teachers in schools. The House after lengthy debate struck Senate language from the bill Tuesday and inserted its own language from a version that died earlier, ensuring more work and debate on a final version. The bill would create a program — optional for school districts — for the Department of Public Safety to train teachers in the use and carry of firearms on campus. House Judiciary B Chairman Nick Bain, R-Corinth, said the measure would also give school districts some legal immunity and would allow them to be insured as opposed to having their own program and training for armed teachers, which is allowed now. Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, questioned whether armed teachers, even with the DPS training, might pose a danger in an intense situation. “Have you ever been in a situation where you have to shoot someone? I have. There are nerves, adrenaline … you can miss. What about a Taser or a stun gun? How about crawling before you walk?”

Senate Bill 2420 to create a “Public Funds Offender Registry.” This bill, now headed to the governor, would require public officials convicted of bribery, embezzlement or other crimes involving public money to register as an offender with the Department of Public Safety for five years, or until certain restitution or other conditions are met. It would also prohibit state or local Mississippi governments from hiring those on the registry.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.