Flanked by residents and student physicians from all over the state, Mississippi doctors and the Mississippi State Medical Association had one ask for Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn on Wednesday.
“We’re simply asking the speaker to allow (Senate Bill) 2212 to be brought for a vote,” said Dr. Anita Henderson, a pediatrician from Hattiesburg.
Last year, Gunn killed the legislation before it could be brought to a vote on the House floor. He has been noncommittal as to whether he will allow his chamber to vote on it this session.
In a press conference hosted on the second floor of the Capitol, Mississippi doctors emphasized the importance of extending postpartum care in the state and at times spoke directly to the House, asking them to pass SB 2212 to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.
According to a Mississippi Today poll of House lawmakers conducted this session, a majority support extending the health insurance coverage for moms on Medicaid.
Currently, Mississippi women who have Medicaid have health insurance coverage for two months after giving birth. But many women in Mississippi and other states who have not expanded Medicaid lose coverage after that, despite complications associated with recovering from pregnancy continuing past that point.
Wyoming’s Senate and Utah’s House are currently considering similar legislation. Mississippi and Wyoming are the only two states with neither extended postpartum coverage nor expanded Medicaid.
“I know that those moms are suffering, and I know that those babies are likely to suffer as well,” Henderson said. “Babies need their mothers, and their mothers need health care.”
SB 2212 was passed by the full Senate on Feb. 7. It’s the second time in four years the Republican-led Senate has voted in favor of extending postpartum care.
The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker Phillip Gunn’s office will likely assign it to the House Medicaid Committee.
When cornered by media on Wednesday afternoon and asked whether he planned to take up the Senate postpartum bill, Rep. Joey Hood, who chairs the House Medicaid Committee and represents Ackerman, responded, “We’re just going to continue to work it through the process.” When asked follow ups about when the House Medicaid Committee was going to meet and what he thought about the MSMA calling on him to extend postpartum coverage, he repeated the statement several times.
In spite of urging from health professionals for years, state leaders like Gov. Tate Reeves and Gunn have remained steadfast in their opposition.
Gunn has repeatedly referred to the bill as Medicaid expansion, another hotly contested Mississippi legislative issue. He indicated to WAPT on Wednesday he would not allow the bill to come up for a vote for that reason.
But the bill doesn’t expand Medicaid eligibility — it extends coverage for those already on Medicaid. Gunn has also said that he’s waiting on the state Division of Medicaid to take a stance on the issue, which they’ve refused.
“It’s really not a right versus left issue,” Henderson said. “It’s a right versus wrong issue.”
Reeves last week said he needs more data to support that the legislation will help mothers.
Donning a button that said “The Kids Sent Me,” Henderson presented lots of data: Two-thirds of babies born in Mississippi are born to mothers on Medicaid, and the state’s already-dismal maternal mortality rate is worsening. Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate, preterm birth rate and low birthweight rate in the country.
Things are only set to get worse: The state’s neonatal ICUs and labor and delivery units are closing. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights last summer, the state is expecting thousands more births.
And when a baby is born prematurely, it can cost the state more than half a million dollars more.
Every medical organization and the state economic council supports the extension of postpartum care for a reason, Henderson said.
“Children are 25% of our population, but 100% of our future,” Henderson said. “What I’m here to tell you is the future of Mississippi is being born right now … and if we want Mississippi to look differently in 10 years, in 20 years, we need to address maternal mortality, and we need to tackle the problem of prematurity.”
Dr. Michelle Owens, an OB-GYN board-certified in maternal fetal medicine, said the situation is dire.
“The process of transitioning back to a non-pregnant state is not arbitrarily cut off at 60 days, or at two months,” Owens said. “It takes almost a year to have a baby. It takes almost a year to get back.”
Henderson said she frequently sees mothers who are suffering from postnatal conditions like postpartum depression, hypertension and cardiomyopathy long after they give birth.
When she screens new mothers and they present complications after 60 days, there’s not much she can do.
Owens said the extension of coverage has the potential to be “transformative.”
“Mississippi moms can’t wait, and Mississippi has waited long enough,” she said.