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Mississippi joins states expanding Medicaid under 'pro-life agenda'

Mississippi extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months, the latest red state to do so after long resisting expansion.
Mississippi joins states expanding Medicaid under 'pro-life agenda'
Posted at 7:24 PM, Apr 17, 2023

When it comes to pregnancy and motherhood, Mississippi mom Brittany Lampkin will tell you she's been through a lot, including losing one of her children.

"Unfortunately, I lost my angel probably about an hour or two after I gave birth," she said. "I think I can admit that I'm actively battling depression, and that comes with some loss of time and memory. But oh, that's how I became an advocate."

Lampkin calls herself a "healthy mom advocate," while living in a state behind the curve, with some of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality. But she says she's excited to see that Mississippi got this one right.

"Now we can breathe," Lampkin said.

After years of resisting expansion of Medicaid, the public health care support for the poor, Republicans are now embracing it in some cases, including in Mississippi. In mid-March, the state expanded coverage for postpartum mothers and their infants up to 12 months — coverage the governor says is part of "a new pro-life agenda" after lawmakers had turned down the expansion three times since 2021.

Mississippi joined a half dozen other states in reversing course. And other conservative-led states — including Missouri, South Dakota and Idaho — are considering extending postpartum Medicaid coverage too. One Republican lawmaker in Wyoming put the recent decision to extend benefits this way: "As a pro-life state, we're more than pro-birth."

Lampkin says she wants other health care providers to pay attention, too.

"I think that Medicaid has opened the door to the opportunity for other insurance providers to get on board with that," Lampkin said.

Medicaid helps people with little to no income. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, patients usually pay either a small copay or zero dollars for covered medical expenses.

The Kaiser Family Foundation says Medicaid covers about 4 in 10 births in the U.S. Federal law requires states to supply pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage up to 60 days postpartum.

SEE MORE: Explaining the laws around women's reproductive health

In 2022, President Joe Biden announced the American Rescue Plan, which included an option for states to offer 12 months of postpartum Medicaid eligibility. But some state legislatures voted not to accept that money, leading activists to allege they were "pro-birth but not pro-life."

"I don't believe the issues surrounding babies both born and unborn or women's health should ever be political chess pieces," said Republican Rep. Missy McGee as she stood before the Mississippi legislature.

The Supreme Court abortion rights question started there in Jackson, Mississippi with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case. Officials estimate ending abortion rights will result in 5,000 new births annually in a state already grappling with high mortality rates for infants and their mothers.

For McGee, who pushed legislation to extend postpartum coverage, the time was right.

"This year, as we find ourselves in a post-Dobbs era, the need exists to strengthen the social safety net and modernize our approach for helping our state's most vulnerable citizens," McGee said.

The Hattiesburg lawmaker serves as vice chair of the state's public health and human services committee and is 1 of only 25 female state lawmakers out of 174 members.

"I've often heard the phrase Mississippi takes pride in being the safest state for a baby to be born," McGee said. "This bill demonstrates that we as policymakers also recognize that our commitment to life cannot end once the baby takes his or her first breath and is outside of the womb."

Lampkin says this extra time can help moms really heal from childbirth and allow them to bond with their newborns.

Then, there's the mental health aspect.

"Postpartum depression is a real thing; it's talked about. But is there a treatment program?" Lampkin said. "I think now we can dive into those things, dive into things like that. Even I call out Medicaid and those private insurance providers to implement some sort of supplement or incentive program for mental health checkups."


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