Ga. House health chair: Extend Medicaid coverage for new moms

    State Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican, led a study committee that has recommended extending Medicaid coverage for new moms to a full year after they give birth. Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a Columbus Democrat, is pictured second from the left. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    The head of a legislative group looking at maternal health care in Georgia says she wants the state to extend Medicaid coverage for women after they have given birth, when they are most vulnerable.

    State Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican, said Tuesday that she has been “battering” the governor’s office and other state leaders about allowing women to retain Medicaid coverage for as long as one year after giving birth. Currently, coverage is cut off two months after the pregnancy ends.

    “We are trying to get that extension,” Cooper said at a meeting of a House study panel focused on Georgia’s high rates of maternal deaths. “I feel like I’m making some progress … but you have people pulling for 50,000 other things – for children, for people who have brain injuries and everything else.”

    Cooper called the proposal a priority for her. Her study committee hasn’t yet drafted recommendations ahead of the new legislative session, but she said afterwards that extending Medicaid could be among them.

    The chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee said afterwards that she thought the cost of stretching out coverage to six months or as long as a year after delivery would be minimal in the big picture. But adding any new expense may prove a tough sell at a time when the governor is ordering nearly all departments to cut spending.

    Budget analysts said extending coverage to one year would initially cost about $133 million, with the state’s share at about $44 million, according to a report issued in October on a bill that was filed late in the session this year. The costs would likely rise to $213 million, with the state responsible for $70 million. Cooper said state estimates likely overshoot the actual cost.

    Danielle Rodriguez, who is the Georgia Organizer for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, told Cooper that advocates would show up in numbers to support Cooper’s push. That’s notable, in part, because SisterSong is the lead plaintiff in the challenge of Georgia’s anti-abortion law – a measure that came through Cooper’s Health and Human Services Committee earlier this year.

    “I think we need to put more confidence in black women and trust us more,” Rodriguez said to the panel. “Because we can advocate for ourselves if we have the resources.”

    Black women are at least three times more likely to die than their white counterparts – a fact that has loomed large over the panel’s series of hearings. The group is expected to issue its report in the coming weeks.

    State Rep. Mable Thomas, an Atlanta Democrat, urged the group to press for ambitious changes.

    “We have an opportunity to do something big,” Thomas said to the committee Tuesday. “If you don’t speak up for women, you don’t speak up for families.

    “This is big enough that we can show again the type of power we have as women and put this on the front burner – ask for more money in the budget, keep pushing the governor,” Thomas said.

    Cooper has at times raised eyebrows with her comments questioning Georgia’s dismal showing in maternal mortality rankings. She told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that she is concerned that women will be scared out of seeking medical care from physicians.

    “One death is too many,” Cooper said. “But it sounds like there are hundreds of women dying each year in Georgia from pregnancies and that’s not true.

    “And I don’t want women – especially women of color – being afraid to go to the hospital or (seek) medical care,” Cooper said. “And a lot of, I think, that is coming from misinformation and chatter out on the internet.”

    In 2014, the most recent year available, 43 maternal deaths were found to be related to or aggravated by the woman’s pregnancy. Many of them happened after delivery.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.