Mississippians on Medicaid officially have health care coverage for a year after giving birth. 

Gov. Tate Reeves signed Senate Bill 2212 into law on Thursday, extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from two to 12 months.

His signature came after a last-minute endorsement of the bill before a legislative deadline last month. For a year prior, Reeves had not taken a stance on the issue. Two weeks before issuing his endorsement, he said he “needed more data” to decide.

The change will affect thousands. More than two-thirds of babies in Mississippi are born to people on Medicaid. 

Health experts, including State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney, medical organizations and maternal health advocates have long pushed for the change. Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is getting worse, and Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate, preterm birth rate and low-birthweight rate in the country. 

Experts say that extending postpartum coverage will improve health outcomes for babies and their mothers because it will allow them to seek care and address continuing pregnancy-related health issues long after they give birth, lowering the risk of preterm birth. 

Advocates say the move is especially important after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights last summer. The state is expecting thousands more births in the coming months. 

Reeves, who faces reelection later this year, cited the overturning of Roe v. Wade in a press release as a leading factor in his support of the legislation.

“I believe continuing to offer care for new moms for up to 12 months after the birth of their baby is the right thing to do,” he said in the statement. “This is one more thing that we can do to tip the scales in favor of life. And that has to be our priority.”

For two years, the Senate passed the legislation multiple times, and it was repeatedly blocked by House leadership. But the political tides turned in late February after Reeves unexpectedly urged lawmakers via social media to pass the bill.  

Quickly after, Division of Medicaid Executive Director Drew Snyder, who had also refused to take a stance on the legislation for months, wrote House Speaker Philip Gunn a letter voicing his support for the change. He estimated the policy change would cost the state $7.1 million, a fraction of its $3.9 billion surplus. 

On Feb. 28, the House Medicaid Committee met for the first time, allowing the legislation to move to the House floor days later, where it passed. 

Mississippi now joins 29 other states, including D.C., that have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage. 

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.