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Pennsylvania should extend Medicaid postpartum coverage

Intelligencer Journal - 3/27/2021

The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any developed country in the world. While this data point is surprising to many, there is now an opportunity for both the nation and Pennsylvania to improve, should our state’s Department of Human Services opt to do so.

In the recently enacted American Rescue Plan, Congress included a short but critical section of language providing states the option to extend postpartum coverage for new mothers enrolled in Medicaid from the current period of 60 days to 12 months.

Should Pennsylvania take this needed step, it would provide certainty for moms in our state, as it would step in when the public health emergency, extended by the Biden administration through the end of 2021, lapses.

This federal declaration is currently providing coverage for 12 months, but once it ends, countless women stand to have the rug pulled out from under them and lose their health insurance and access to coverage.

How big of an impact would this have? In 2018, Medicaid births accounted for approximately 35% of all births in Pennsylvania.

When coverage ends 60 days after the birth of a baby, moms in our state miss out on critical access to care ranging from receiving a maternal depression and anxiety screening to other services that can lower maternal mortality rates.

Between 2013 and 2018, 58% of maternal deaths in Pennsylvania occurred six weeks to one year after babies were born — the period after their coverage ends.

Even more unsettling are the deep racial inequities apparent in the data, including Black women being at three times greater risk for pregnancy-related deaths than white women in our state.

What can we do to fix this? Urging the state Department of Human Services and Gov. Tom Wolf to provide for 12 months of coverage in Medicaid for mothers after the birth of a baby is key to improving health outcomes and addressing disparities.

Maternal depression, an embolism or a heart condition are potential ailments that don’t just end 60 days after giving birth.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is working with stakeholder partners across the state because we know moms need to be healthy in order for babies and kids to be healthy.

Please join me in encouraging Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services and Gov. Wolf to exercise the option and reduce inequities in health care coverage and access.

Kari King is the president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

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