Gov. Tate Reeves gives his State of the State address on the steps of the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, January 30, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves, who for more than a year refused to endorse lengthening postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a year, on Sunday announced his support for the extension.

In a social media post, the first-term Republican governor facing reelection later this year said the Legislature should pass a bill extending health coverage for new mothers from 60 days to 12 months and that he would sign the proposal into law. It is not clear whether legislation is needed to extend postpartum or whether Reeves, as the head of the Division of Medicaid, could do so on his own. Legislative leaders have for months said Reeves’ administration could pass the policy without legislative approval.

The governor did not address in the social media post acting on his own to extend postpartum coverage.

The governor said he is in support of extending postpartum in light of the Dobbs case, which originated in Mississippi and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a national right to an abortion. That Supreme Court ruling this past summer triggered a prohibition on most abortions in Mississippi.

“In a post Dobbs world – we may even have to be willing to do things that make us ‘philosophically uncomfortable’,” Reeves wrote on Sunday.

He added, “The Legislature should pass a law continuing this 12 months of postpartum coverage … and if they do I will sign it into law.

“I don’t expect all of my friends to agree with this decision. But I make it – as always – because I believe in my heart it is the right thing to do for Mississippi moms, given the facts as I see them today.”

Reeves’ announcement of support comes two days before a Tuesday deadline to pass out of committee in the House a bill approved by the Senate extending postpartum coverage. The bill appears to be in jeopardy in the House, where Speaker Philip Gunn has voiced opposition and Medicaid Chair Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, has refused to express an opinion on the issue. Hood has not even called a Medicaid Committee meeting this year where the issue could be considered. The GOP-led Senate passed the proposal in the 2022 session, but it was killed in the House.

For about a year, Reeves has refused to endorse extending postpartum coverage. Less than two weeks ago, Reeves said he needed to see more data that showed the health benefits of extending health care to mothers.

Reeves’ comments come after nearly every medical association in the state, many religious groups and his likely November general election opponent, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, have endorsed the extension.

About 35 states have passed the extension in recent months. The postpartum extension is currently in effect in most of the nation as part of the federal COVID-19 state of emergency. But that emergency is set to end in April, resulting in the end of the extension in states that do not take action to continue it.

Health care officials say the postpartum extension is especially important in Mississippi because it has the nation’s highest infant mortality rate, one of the highest rates of deaths of mothers after pregnancy, and other low health care outcomes for women and children.

In a joint statement, Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, and Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the minority leaders in their respective chambers, said, “The governor’s eleventh-hour endorsement of extending postpartum Medicaid coverage is hardly an endorsement at all. Saying he’ll sign this bill if it comes to him is simply a last-ditch effort to save face on an issue that the vast majority of Mississippians support. It is not courageous; it is craven political theater. The governor could extend postpartum Medicaid coverage right now, with his own signature, if he was truly moved to be the champion of Mississippi families he claims to be in today’s statement.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.