A group of Georgia lawmakers wants to extend how long pregnant women can qualify for Medicaid health coverage. They’re also looking to mandate postmortem exams for women who die while pregnant or within one year of giving birth.
Those are just some of the 19 recommendations made this week made by the Georgia House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality.
After months of hearings, the group of state lawmakers has released its report on how to reduce Georgia’s maternal death rate, which is one of the highest in the country. The problem disproportionately affects minority populations living in rural parts of the state.
“Can we do them all this year? Probably not,” said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, who sits on the committee. “But this charts a course for us. These are some of the things that we need to do, and this is where we need to head.”
Hugley says she’s excited about recommendations that lawmakers support postpartum home visits by nurses or community health workers to better connect new mothers to resources.
She’s also a strong supporter of the recommendation to extend Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women to one year postpartum, which could allow them greater access to medical care.
Currently, low-income pregnant women in Georgia only qualify for Medicaid coverage for up to 60 days after giving birth. The study committee’s report says that can leave pregnant women with many of their medical needs uncovered.
“The largest number of maternal mortalities … happen by six months [postpartum],” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, who co-chaired the study committee, of the proposed Medicaid eligibility expansion.
“So, [expanding eligibility] would get us to that six months, which would cover the time that most maternal mortalities occur.”
Cooper says she’s talked with administrators at the Georgia Department of Community Health, which runs the state’s Medicaid program, about the financial costs of expanding eligibility. She says she’s received estimates it could cost the state anywhere from $17 million to $70 million.
The numbers matter as Georgia lawmakers and agency leaders consider orders from Gov. Brian Kemp to cut the state budget for the current and upcoming fiscal year.
Cooper says the governor’s office hasn’t sent her any negative feedback about the recommendations. And she’s willing to take an incremental approach for the eligibility expansion.
“I would take [expanded coverage to] six months [postpartum] and see how it works and see if women do take advantage of it,” she said. “But I have asked for a year.”
Meanwhile, some maternal health advocates hope state lawmakers can find the funding for some of the recommendations while not cutting money for existing programs.
“The state has made major investments in maternal and infant health program and research funding in the past two sessions,” said Elise Blasingame, executive director for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia.
“This list of recommendations from the committee further supports the critical need to keep that funding in place given the current budget climate and governor’s calls for cuts.”
It will be one of the many decisions before state lawmakers when they return to kick off the 2020 legislative session next week.