Mississippi passes quicker pregnancy Medicaid coverage to try to reduce deaths of moms and babies

The Mississippi Legislature is sending a bill to the Governor that will allow women with low incomes to get Medicaid coverage earlier in pregnancy, in an effort to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies in a state with abysmal rates of maternal and infant mortality.

The state Senate approved a House proposal that allows up to 60 days of “presumptive eligibility” for Medicaid, starting July 1. Pregnant women declaring a net income of up to 194% of the federal poverty level would be able to get outpatient care paid by Medicaid for up to two months, while her application for the government insurance program is being considered.

The legislation now heads to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who hasn’t said whether he will sign or veto it.

“We are not a healthy state,” said Republican Sen. Nicole Boyd of Oxford. “According to all leading health care experts, the most critical mechanism to prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes and risk is to get adequate prenatal care.”

Deaths from pregnancy complications have increased in Mississippi in recent years. The state ranks worst in the U.S. for infant mortality, with Black infants nearly twice as likely as white ones to die over the past decade, according to a report unveiled Jan. 18 by the state Department of Health. The state preterm birth rate and maternal mortality rate also lag the rest of the nation.

Those metrics could be improved if low-income women could seek health services earlier in the pregnancy, proponents argue.

Mississippi’s income-based Medicaid plan covers the entire pregnancy for women whose families make no more than about twice the federal poverty level, and last year the state extended postpartum Medicaid coverage for the birth mother from two months to a full year.

Presumptive Medicaid eligibility during pregnancy would still be based on income. If a woman’s Medicaid application is ultimately rejected because her income is too high, Medicaid would still pay health care providers for services they provided during the time of presumptive eligibility.

The bill does not introduce any new eligibility category or expand Medicaid coverage. It would cost the state about $567,000, far less than the cost of treating large numbers of preterm births, Boyd said.

The state is expecting more births each year as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had established a nationwide constitutional protection for abortion. The court used a Mississippi case to overturn the case, a legal effort the state’s leaders have lauded.

In 2023, Mississippi extended postpartum Medicaid coverage for the birth mother from two months to a full year. Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said the latest measure was another way to shore up support for mothers.

“Pro-life is pro-child. Mississippi mothers need access to healthcare the moment they find out they are pregnant and this legislation will accomplish that,” Hosemann said in a written statement.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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