By HEATHER GANN, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new provision added Wednesday to the General Fund budget moving in the Legislature would allow the state to extend women’s postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.
The move came as advocates gathered at the State House rallied in support of extending care for new mothers, which they say will save lives and prevent other bad outcomes. About 50% of births in the state are paid for by Medicaid.
“I know what it’s like not to have the health care you need when you need it and none of our (Alabama) mothers should have to go through that,” said Aqualyn Kennedy, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, which helped organize the rally.
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, introduced House Bill 360 as standalone legislation that would extend Medicaid health coverage for eligible women from 60 days to one year after they give birth. However, Hall said she and House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, worked out a way to get the plan into the budget.
That budget passed committee Wednesday and now goes to the House floor.
Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, was also part of the coalition pushing for the proposal.
“We fight these issues so the women that come behind us have an opportunity to be well,” Wood said. “Women need to be well to take care of their children.”
Jada Shaffer, governmental relations director of the American Heart Association, said 60 days or even six months was not adequate time to treat heart or blood pressure issues existing in a new mother or infant. Shaffer also shared her own personal connection to Medicaid and its expansion.
“I remember being pregnant at 16 and being afraid when my mother told me I would have to go on Medicaid because my parents couldn’t afford for me to have a baby,” Shaffer said. “Postpartum isn’t just for 60 days, 6 months, or even 12 months… All women experience postpartum and it’s scary.”
According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2020 report, there were 861 maternal deaths nationwide in 2020, an increase of more than 100 from the 754 reported in 2019. Alabama alone reported 35.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021 and ranked third-highest in the nation for maternal mortality rates in 2020.
“This increasing trend makes the United States the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth,” March of Dimes Health Officer Dr. Zsakeba Henderson said.
The March of Dimes recommendations for the new funding includes investigation into every maternal death so that they may give recommendations to health care providers to lessen these numbers in the future and improve the quality of affordable care for women across the state.