Georgia House approves extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers

Sharon Cooper, R - Marietta, urged Georgia House colleagues to vote for a senior care safety bill that was overwhelming approved after she spoke last month. The reform proposal heads to the Senate later this month.

Credit: Bob Andres, robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres, robert.andres@ajc.com

The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would give new mothers six months of Medicaid coverage after delivering a child.

House Bill 1114 would extend medical coverage for low-income women from its current limit of two months. The coverage would also include lactation specialists for women struggling with breastfeeding.

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$20 million to fund the extension is included in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, passed earlier Tuesday.

Georgia has long been among the top states for maternal mortality, and the national rate is one of the highest in the developed world. African American women, women over 35 and rural residents are at highest risk for death following childbirth, according to a state study. Between 2012 and 2014, 60% of maternal deaths were found to be preventable, according to a bipartisan study committee. That committee recommended Medicaid be expanded for a year to low-income new mothers.

Pregnant Georgia women who earn less than double the federal poverty level

— about $34,000 for a family of two and $52,000 for four — currently qualify for two months of Medicaid coverage following the birth of their child. Women who receive the coverage often scramble to get treatment before the clock runs out, which can be particularly difficult in rural areas with few obstetricians and gynecologists.

Extending the time frame to six months would further allow women to monitor common but potentially fatal issues that arrive after a baby is born, including postpartum depression, high blood pressure and cardiac conditions.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta,  and supported by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, moved swiftly through the House, passing 164-1 five days after it was introduced.

The legislation has been a “long time coming,” said Rep. “Able” Mabel Thomas, D-Atlanta. Thomas has been an advocate for extending Medicaid coverage and combating high maternal mortality rates since she learned about the issue in 2012, she said.

The bill now must be considered by the Senate.

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