The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

For the fourth time in two years, the Republican-led Mississippi Senate voted to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to mothers from 60 days to one year.

Supporters, including Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, call the move a “pro-life” effort to deal with the state’s new abortion ban and long-running high rates of death for infants and mothers.

It heads now to the House, where Republican Speaker Philip Gunn killed the measures without a vote last year, and where a similar House bill this year died in committee without a vote. But a recent survey of lawmakers by Mississippi Today shows a majority of House members said they support extending the coverage, as 28 other states have done and eight others have chosen to do but are awaiting federal approval.

READ MORE: Survey: Majority of lawmakers support postpartum Medicaid extension

There was no debate Tuesday on Senate Bill 2212, which the Senate passed 40 to 11.

“This is the same exact bill we passed last session 45-5,” said Senate Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven.

Seven Republican senators who voted either “yea” or did not vote last year voted “no” on Tuesday: Sens. Michael McClendon of Hernando, Benjamin Suber of Bruce, Chris Caughman of Mendenhall, Neil Whaley of Potts Camp, Philip Moran of Kiln, and Mike Seymour of Vancleave.

The other “no” votes on Tuesday were also “no” votes last year: Sens. Jenifer Branning of Philadelphia, Kathy Chism of New Albany, Angela Burks Hills of Picuyune, Melanie Sojourner of Natchez and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville.

On the floor Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, tried to amend the bill to include broader Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor per the federal Affordable Care Act. Mississippi is one of 11 GOP-led states to refuse to accept federal money to expand the state-federal health program. Although Hosemann and a growing number of Republican lawmakers say they are at least open to expansion, Gunn, Gov. Tate Reeves and many other Republicans remain opposed.

After Blackwell warned colleagues that if they voted for Blackmon’s expansion amendment, “you in essence have killed this (postpartum) bill,” the amendment died with a 15-36 vote.

In Mississippi, with high rates of poverty and uninsured people, about 65% of babies are born to mothers on Medicaid. Because of lag times in being approved for coverage and the current 60-day cutoff, mothers often do not receive the prenatal and postpartum care they need — care that could prevent many major problems, many doctors and experts have testified to lawmakers.

The cost of extending the postpartum coverage is estimated at $6 million to $7 million per year. Many medical officials and advocates have told lawmakers extending the coverage would likely produce a net savings for the state by preventing dire medical conditions later from lack of treatment.

Blackwell, at a recent hearing on the issue, said: “The relatively minimal amount to provide this care compared to the cost later — it’s a no-brainer in my mind.”

But opponents of extending postpartum coverage — most of whom lump it in with broader Medicaid expansion — often criticize it as socialized medicine or welfare.

In his Jan. 30 State of the State address, Gov. Reeves urged lawmakers: “Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine … You have my word that if you stand up to the left’s push for endless government-run healthcare, I will stand with you.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.