ATLANTA — As the Biden administration pushes for new action to address the maternal healthcare crisis in the U.S., some of those efforts are already underway in Georgia.
“One of those strategies is to make sure that new mothers have health coverage for that entire year after birth. Typically in Georgia and other states, if a mother does receive Medicaid, they'll have Medicaid during the pregnancy. But then they typically lose it two months after delivery or birth,” Laura Harker with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute told 11Alive.
“So that means they may not be able to get care for conditions that are more chronic illnesses that can arise after pregnancy that can lead to death in that first year,” Harker explained.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently signed off on a plan to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms in Georgia, increasing coverage from the current 60-day postpartum period to six months.
That’s significant in a state where 56 percent of births each year are paid for by Medicaid. In 2020, that included 65,253 births, according to data from Georgia’s Department of Community Health, while Medicaid covered 70,800 births in 2019.
Governor Brian Kemp said Georgia’s ultimate goal is to reduce maternal mortality rates.
"Working with members of the General Assembly during the 2020 legislative session, I was thrilled to sign into law House Bill 1114 which authorizes the extension of Medicaid coverage for six months to provide for postpartum care in our continued fight to decrease maternal mortality," said Gov. Kemp, in a press release. “We recognize that maternal deaths are a serious public health concern, and the approval of the Georgia Postpartum Extension waiver underscores Georgia’s commitment to continually enhance the level of care for new mothers in the Peach State."
According to the governor’s office, the move makes Georgia one of just three states to extend Medicaid coverage to postpartum women.
The first state to get waiver approval is Illinois, where mothers will see coverage extended beyond 60 days and up to 12 months under that state’s waiver.
A 2019 report from Georgia’s House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality, which found approximately 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, also recommended extending Georgia’s Medicaid coverage for eligible mothers to one-year postpartum.
While the waiver approval is a step forward in improving new mom’s access to healthcare services, extending coverage for a full year is a plan Harker hopes to see ultimately enacted in Georgia.
“Especially for women dealing with depression, maternal depression, substance use disorder,” Harker explained. “Those conditions are longer and extend longer throughout that first year. So having access to health care to get maternal depression screenings or to get treatment for substance use disorders in that full first year is something of concern in the longer term, that we'll be continuing to keep an eye on and encourage the state to increase revenue and to fund those priorities as well.”