Child and maternal health advocates urged Pennsylvania to take advantage of an opportunity to extend coverage for new mothers on Medicaid.
The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any industrialized country.
But Medicaid usually only provides postpartum coverage for 60 days after the birth of a child.
That has been extended to a full year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now a provision in the recently passed American Rescue Plan allows states to continue that extension when the Public Health Emergency lapses at the end of this year.
Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said the extension covers a critical period when most maternal deaths occur.
“Between 2013 and 2018, 58% of maternal deaths in Pennsylvania occurred between six weeks to one year after babies were born,” King reported.
She explained the state Department of Human Services needs to file a plan with the federal government which, once approved, would allow the extended coverage to continue.
Factors contributing to maternal deaths include postpartum depression, pulmonary embolisms and blood clots, but with regular care they can be treated.
King stressed without the extension, Medicaid postpartum coverage will revert to only 60 days.
“I really am concerned that you’ll see those maternal deaths spiking because you’re not getting as many women in to those postpartum visits, because you’re not seeing that extension of coverage happen,” King remarked.
She added Black women in Pennsylvania are three times more at risk of pregnancy-related death than are white women.
Ensuring access to postpartum health care for new mothers also benefits the rest of the family.
King noted research shows for kids to be healthy, moms need to be healthy.
“It’s really critical that we get this message out and that the state takes action in the next few months,” King emphasized. “It really does mean that kids are going to be healthier because moms are going to be healthier.”
She added extending postpartum maternal Medicaid will benefit about 10,000 women a year in Pennsylvania.