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Advocates Urge Mississippi to Expand Medicaid for Moms After Abortion Ban


JACKSON, Miss. — Like low-income pregnant women across the country, nearly every patient on the Sisters in Birth clinic here is roofed by Medicaid, the general public medical health insurance program for the poor. But they face the prospect of losing the coverage two months after their babies are born, once they are still at high risk of complications that may lead to serious illness — and even death.

Last yr, Democrats put a possible solution of their pandemic relief bill: a streamlined solution to extend recent moms’ Medicaid coverage for a full yr after they provide birth. Most states have pursued the choice, but Mississippi is amongst 17, largely led by Republicans, which have not. Most of those, including Mississippi, have also banned abortion or will soon.

Within the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Republican lawmakers who welcomed it are under pressure to commit to policies that can support women and kids. However the conversations have barely begun, and plenty of states are ignoring obvious possibilities. Even some conservatives say that not taking over the limited Medicaid expansion is a mistake.

“Should you are a state on the lookout for options to deal with the health care needs of girls, this can be a clear, easy win,” said Seema Verma, who oversaw Medicaid and Medicare in the course of the Trump administration. “From my perspective, this has strong potential to enhance health outcomes for girls.”

Mississippi — whose maternal mortality rate is nearly twice the national average — already had a spirited political discussion about extending Medicaid coverage for brand new moms; a measure to achieve this passed the State Senate, with support from a variety of Republicans, earlier this yr. However it was blocked by the Republican speaker of the House, who cited financial concerns and said of Medicaid enrollment on the time, “We’d like to look for methods to maintain people off, not put them on.”

For the patients at Sisters in Birth, the stakes could hardly feel higher. Many have seen friends and families suffer, and even die, during or after childbirth. Julia Kirkland, 27, her 2-year-old cuddled against her bulging belly, told the clinic’s nurse-midwife one recent day that she was frightened about postpartum bleeding; she had heard so many stories.

D’Asia Newton, a 21-year-old child care employee, has a friend whose doctors misdiagnosed her pre-eclampsia — a pregnancy-related condition that may be fatal — and needed to be rushed back to the hospital after giving birth. Losing coverage soon after having her baby, she said, is “one among the things I’ve been stressing about.”

President Biden, who has vowed to cut back racial disparities in health, has put Vice President Kamala Harris accountable for addressing maternal mortality. In June, she issued a “Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis,” with the stated goal of turning america into the “best country on the planet to have a baby.”

In Mississippi — the state that gave rise to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned Roe — Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, called it “a joyous day” when Roe fell. He later wrote on Twitter that Mississippi was “leading the nation in a constructing a culture of life that serves moms and kids!”

His office didn’t reply to repeated interview requests. But critics say the solutions Mr. Reeves has proposed — including promoting adoption and offering tax credits for businesses that donate to pregnancy resource centers, which are frequently run by abortion opponents — don’t have in mind the stark reality that many American women of childbearing age lack access to basic health care.

Mississippi is one among 12 states that proceed to dam a broad expansion of Medicaid under the Reasonably priced Care Act, greater than a decade after the law was passed. That has left tens of hundreds of girls of reproductive age — 43,000 in Mississippi alone — without access to routine medical care before they get pregnant that helps ensure healthy outcomes once they do. Many face barriers in accessing family planning services to forestall unwanted pregnancies in the primary place.

“We’re talking about 800,000 women of childbearing age, two-thirds of them women of color, who’re falling between the cracks immediately,” said Maya Wiley, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington. “And so a lot of these states are the identical states attempting to force them to have babies against their will.”

Republicans who oppose a broad expansion of Medicaid often cite cost concerns, although the law requires the federal government to cover 90 percent of the expense. They include Mr. Reeves and Philip Gunn, the House speaker, who blocked the extension of Medicaid for brand new moms. Through their offices, each declined repeated requests to comment.

“I’m not open to Medicaid expansion,” Mr. Gunn said in April, adding, “I just don’t think the taxpayers can afford it.”

In the meanwhile, recent moms with Medicaid can stay on it — but for a lot of, only for so long as the national public health emergency for the coronavirus stays in effect. The American Rescue Plan streamlines the method for states to increase Medicaid coverage for 12 months after a lady gives birth on a everlasting basis. Health advocates hope the demise of Roe will prompt Mississippi and other holdout states to achieve this.

“It really puts the rock within the pocket of policymakers who say they care about women,” said Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, an advocacy group.

Together with Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana, Mississippi has one among the very best maternal mortality rates within the nation, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 136 pregnancy-associated deaths between 2013 and 2016, in line with a report last yr by the state’s Department of Health, which really useful extending Medicaid coverage for brand new moms.

Lots of those deaths happened after the two-month coverage period had ended. Black women, who are inclined to be poorer and have worse health care than white women, accounted for about 80 percent of maternal deaths related to cardiac conditions.

The trends outrage Getty Israel, a population health expert who has studied poor birth outcomes in Mississippi. Concern about high rates of obesity, unnecessary cesarean sections and other problems that result in poor birth outcomes drove her to determine Sisters in Birth in 2016, initially as a community health organization. The clinic opened last yr.

She is fed up with Democrats and Republicans alike. She says that she was neglected of Mr. Reeves’s plan to advertise pregnancy resource centers because she just isn’t within the anti-abortion movement, and is irritated at her congressman, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, for not securing federal dollars to satisfy her plan of turning Sisters in Birth right into a full-fledged birthing center where women could deliver their babies. (In a press release, Mr. Thompson said he tries “to help as many individuals as possible.”)

“I’m not getting help from Democrats or Republicans in Mississippi,” she said in an interview last month. “Republicans are aggressively taking away rights and undermining birth outcomes and Democrats, realizing that they’ve a minority, throw their arms up within the air and say we will’t do anything.”

The partitions of Sisters in Birth, which is in an industrial park, are lined with pictures of female luminaries: Maya Angelou, the poet; Gloria Steinem, the feminist; Dolores Huerta, the labor leader. Its couch pillows are covered in Kente cloth — traditionally worn by West African royalty to indicate power and prestige.

The clinic partners with doctors at a close-by hospital and employs a nurse-midwife, Audreanna Lewis-Sholes, who provides routine obstetrics and gynecology care. It also offers dietary counseling and childbirth, education and fitness classes (there may be a Pilates machine on the ground) in addition to doula training for fathers and postpartum and breastfeeding support, led by a community medical examiner.

Medicaid covers about 60 percent of births in Mississippi; Ms. Israel said which means most pregnant women have access to an obstetrician.

“However the outcomes are still horrible,” she said. “So we’d like to do greater than just give access to an exam or an ultrasound.”

Some red states, even those who refuse to expand Medicaid more broadly, have embraced the choice to increase it for brand new moms. Texas has taken a half step, extending postpartum coverage for six months after birth as a substitute of a yr.

Tennessee adopted a full 12-month extension after the deputy director of the state’s Medicaid program used a report on maternal mortality to press lawmakers to achieve this.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a budget bill in April that included $4 million to increase postpartum Medicaid coverage for a yr — each due to the advocacy of a female Republican lawmaker, and since other Republicans viewed it as a step toward racial justice, said Robyn Hyden, executive director of the advocacy group Alabama Arise.

In Mississippi, those that favor Medicaid for brand new moms include two female lawmakers, each Republicans: Becky Currie, a registered nurse and member of the Mississippi House who wrote the anti-abortion law at issue within the Dobbs case; and Nicole Boyd, a lawyer and state senator who once ran a health care nonprofit.

“For us, it’s a really common sense issue,” Ms. Boyd said. “Now we have a high maternal death rate within the state — one among the very best within the country — and we all know that good postpartum care will greatly reduce that. We all know that we have now a good portion of youngsters born to Medicaid moms. We all know that preventive health care is cost-effective, and we all know that ensuring these moms have health care a yr after they deliver is completely essential.”

After the Dobbs decision, Mr. Gunn, the House speaker, announced he would form a commission to recommend “Next Steps for Life” laws for lawmakers to take up once they reconvene in January. He put Ms. Boyd in charge.

She and Ms. Israel met for 3 hours last week, talking about a spread of issues, including the low rates of long-acting contraception use amongst Black women and the role of community medical experts. Ms. Boyd said afterward that she welcomed Ms. Israel’s tough talk, adding, “We all know we’re going to have more babies being born, and people babies would require more services.”

Ms. Israel got here away hopeful. “This woman is on the appropriate track, I salute her,” she said. “It is a ship we could start turning around.”

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