Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, presents to reporters the House's position on their state income tax elimination legislation at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

House Speaker Philip Gunn on Monday said he won’t block extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage for Mississippi mothers, following fellow Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ lead from Sunday.

House Medicaid Committee Chairman Joey Hood said he will call a committee meeting for Tuesday, the deadline to keep postpartum extension legislation alive by committee passage. The measure is expected to pass.

A Mississippi Today survey of House lawmakers in early February showed a majority support extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a year, but Gunn twice blocked the measure from coming to a House vote last year.

“For a year, we’ve been asking the department of Medicaid to give us some guidance,” Gunn said. “I have this letter today, where they have said it is a suitable approach for Mississippi. They support doing it and they do not view it as Medicaid expansion — it’s not adding new people onto the rolls. Those have been my two main concerns this whole time. I feel like we have been consistent.”

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves, after months of resistance, asks lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension

The Senate, led by fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, has several times passed a bill to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage. But the proposal has died in the House without a vote under Gunn’s direction. Gunn opposes Medicaid expansion and has said he was concerned the postpartum coverage extension would be considered such expansion.

Medicaid Director Drew Snyder had publicly declined taking a position on the issue, and Gunn and Hood said they have been unable to get guidance — hence their not taking it up in the House last year. But after Reeves, who oversees the Division of Medicaid, said on Sunday he supports postpartum coverage extension, Snyder sent Gunn a letter on Monday.

It said: “… adopting a one-year coverage duration for postpartum pregnant women as set out in Senate bill 2212 is a suitable approach for Mississippi. It also is consistent with the approach followed by similarly situated Medicaid programs in our region such as Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee … I would also note that establishing a 12-month coverage duration for already eligible Medicaid moms is different than expanding Medicaid to newly eligible adults under the Affordable Care Act.”

Gunn stressed that he’s been “consistent” in saying he would not support postpartum extension until the Medicaid Division told him it supported the move. He said he suspects the agency sent him the letter because of Reeves’ announcement of support. Previously, Reeves said he didn’t have enough data to show that extending health services to mothers would help their health.

READ MORE: FAQ: What is postpartum Medicaid extension, exactly?

Reeves said Sunday that given the overturning of Roe v. Wade abortion rights, with thousands more births expected in Mississippi with its high rates of infant and maternal mortality and problems, the state should “go above and beyond” to help uninsured mothers.

Gunn said he still opposes broader Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor, as 39 other states have done.

“I still believe there are good solutions that don’t involve government,” Gunn said. “Like the tax credits we’ve proposed, incentives for private-sector solution to help with health care, without expanding government.”

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, a member of the House Medicaid Committee, said he believes the legislation will pass in the committee.

“I have mixed emotions,” Clark said. “I am extremely happy mothers are getting coverage. But it shows you how much politics play into the decisions that are made. If it the right thing to do now, which it is, then it was the right thing to do last year and it was the right thing to do earlier this session.

“But I am extremely happy mothers will be covered.”

Clark also said he is pleased that the House Medicaid Committee will be meeting for the first time this session.

READ MORE: Gov. Tate Reeves unsure whether providing mothers health care would help their health

Mississippi Today’s Bobby Harrison contributed to this report.

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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.