Lawmakers hope to extend Medicaid for new moms despite budget cuts

These cards were among the 1,751 displayed at the state Capitol Wednesday as an illustration of the Mother's Day holidays missed by the 250 Georgia mothers who died while pregnant or after giving birth. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

A push to lengthen the amount of time low-income moms can keep their Medicaid coverage after giving birth is quietly chugging along under the Gold Dome even as state lawmakers weigh tough budget cuts.

Advocates are pushing for women to maintain coverage for a year after delivery. Today, they lose access after two months. Some lawmakers favor a compromise that would let women keep their coverage for six months.

“There’s a definite need there,” Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Republican who oversees the portion of the state budget that funds health-related services, said Wednesday.

Parrish said there’s an ongoing effort to find the money for the full year, although the funding requests are many and the discretionary dollars increasingly scarce. Parrish was among those honored Wednesday morning at the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia’s maternal and infant health policy breakfast.

State estimates for adding 10 months of coverage start at about $17 million, but budget analysts last year put the starting price at about $44 million. Adding a few more months of coverage instead could cut the cost about in half.

“We haven’t met a single legislator on either side of the aisle who is against the idea,” said Elise Blasingame, the coalition’s executive director and whose group is pushing for a full year of post-partum coverage. “They all say the same thing, which is we’re just going to have to figure out where the money’s coming from.”

Georgia routinely falls toward the bottom on national maternal mortality rankings, with black women at least three times more likely than their white counterparts to die before, during or not long after giving birth. A state review panel concluded that 60% of pregnancy-related deaths in Georgia are preventable.

A legislative study panel reviewed the issue over the break and came back with a list of recommendations topped off with a call to extend Medicaid coverage. The group’s chair, Marietta Republican Sharon Cooper, has said repeatedly that she is pushing to extend coverage, even if it’s just for a few more months.

Leaders in both chambers have said they support the concept. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said Wednesday that he favors the half-year option since many of the post-partum deaths occur in the six months following delivery.

“If they can figure out a way to pay for a year, that would be something to consider,” Dugan said. “But we’ve been looking at the six-month (option) to do the most good for the most people.”

Most of the deaths directly tied to a woman’s pregnancy from 2012-2014 – 57 of them – occurred within the six months after delivery, according to the most recent report from the Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee. Another 10 women died between six months and a year after giving birth.

That’s why extending post-partum Medicaid coverage is seen as a key solution for improving an at-risk mother’s chances of survival after giving birth. And proponents say they will continue to press for coverage for the full year following delivery.

“We must absolutely fight for a year of coverage,” state Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat, said at Wednesday’s maternal and infant health breakfast. “The numbers are embarrassing, and they’re real lives, real families that we’re talking about.”

Georgia Recorder freelance reporter Maggie Lee contributed to this report.