State Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, says it’s her mission to advocate for women as one of few females in the Mississippi Legislature. Health Editor Kate Royals met with McGee to talk about her experiences as a lawmaker and her push to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms in Mississippi.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Kate Royals: Tell me a bit about yourself – as a woman, a mom, a relatively new lawmaker.
Missy McGee: I was born and raised in Hattiesburg. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Southern Miss. I spent a few years in Washington, D.C. after college and came back to Hattiesburg. I worked in my family business, I was an adjunct instructor at Southern Miss, so I’ve been in that university environment.
I’m married and I have two grown boys that are 24 and 21, and I sort of found myself here (as a legislator). You know, it’s a strange path and I think probably all of us would say the same, but I never expected to run for public office. I was always a behind the scenes person on issues that were important to me or candidates who I felt like were the ones I thought we needed to support. So, I enjoyed being a behind the scenes person.
But it’s really been a great privilege and honor to get to represent my hometown, a city that’s been so good to me and my family. I was educated and raised in Hattiesburg. My children have been as well, so it’s meaningful work to get to come to the Capitol and advocate for my district which is my home, my lifelong home. But hopefully to also move the needle for the state of Mississippi. It’s been a great privilege and opportunity for me these past … this is my sixth session.
Royals: You introduced a bill in the House to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers in Mississippi from 2 months to 1 year. Why?
McGee: You know, I just felt like there has never been a more timely opportunity than this session, in this post-Dobbs era especially – but it’s been important for longer than that to introduce a Medicaid postpartum bill that would extend coverage to 12 months.
As a woman and as a mother, I couldn’t let this issue pass without advocating it and really trying to push it forward.
Royals: How do you think it would benefit the women in your area and also women across the state of Mississippi? (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before McGee’s bill, House Bill 426, died without being considered in committee.)
McGee: I think it is the most impactful thing that we can do for women, moms and babies. So we know that … 36,000 babies were born in Mississippi in 2019, and we know that 65% of the babies born in Mississippi are born to moms on Medicaid. That’s not hard math to figure out; that’s 23,000 women a year. That’s 23,000 women that this can impact, which is 23,000 babies, which is 23,000 families.
I really think that it is a pro-family position, certainly a pro-life position, to take care of these moms who are carrying and delivering and bringing these babies into the world – because healthy moms equal healthy babies. They go hand in hand, so I really believe it’s currently the most impactful thing we can do for women and children.
Royals: You’ve got a hospital and a big health care community in your area – and they are in support of this?
McGee: Absolutely, they are. And it’s not just the pediatricians and neonatologists who take care of these preemies in the NICU (who support extending postpartum coverage). But the ER docs are for it because … if a woman does not have health insurance and she’s sick for whatever reason after having a child, she shows up in the emergency room. So ER doctors are supportive as well because they’re seeing them, too.
I think it’s safe to say the entire health care community knows this is important for the well being of moms and, again, babies.
Royals: It looks like Alabama and North Dakota were just approved by CMS for 12 months postpartum Medicaid coverage, joining half the states with approvals so far. Mississippi is at present 1 of only 2 states without extended postpartum coverage or Medicaid expansion. As someone very much in the middle of the lawmaking process, do you have any insight into why this may be?
McGee: All I would say is that I hope that we won’t be going forward. I hope we will join those states in extending coverage to these moms to 12 months. That’s all I can say on that.
Royals: According to the Center for American Women and Politics, you are one of 26 women in the entire state Legislature —26 out of 174. Can you tell me what that’s like?
McGee: Yes, I believe I am one of 15 women in the House. So out of 122 members of the House of Representatives – and that number has changed a little bit. Well, you know, I feel like I have a greater responsibility to the women of Mississippi. We make up 50%, 51% of the state yet there are only 15 of 122 women in the House, so I do feel a greater responsibility to look out for the issues of women.
That’s not my only concern, certainly, but I do feel an added responsibility to the women of Mississippi. Everybody comes to this job coming from their own frame of reference. As a woman, as a mom, I have experiences that my male colleagues don’t have, just like they have experiences I don’t. So on issues like this I feel like, not to be repetitive, I feel a higher responsibility to champion important causes for the well being of women in our state.