OPINION: Postpartum Medicaid extension is long overdue

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have yet to approve the postpartum extension for new mothers despite overwhelming support. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PXFUEL

New mothers have a chance to gain access to extended Medicaid with SB 2518 passed July 1. The program, however, is still waiting for full approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

By not finalizing the bill, CMS is harming future and current mothers. Florida citizens and lawmakers must push CMS to put the bill into action sooner rather than later.

Kimberly Quinn with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) said they’re still waiting on CMS’s approval on the bill’s spending budget. The last proposal made by the AHCA was on Sept. 24, and is unclear on whether it’ll be approved or not.

The bill extends Medicaid coverage for pregnant women until a year after the baby’s birth. With this legislation, mothers and babies are expected to be given better care, including mental health assessments and follow-up physician visits, according to the House’s March 23 news release.

By postponing the finalization of the bill, CMS is putting new mothers at a disadvantage. This is particularly harmful for low-income mothers who have more difficulty finding insurance within their price range that covers their newborn’s needs.

The average cost for a vaginal delivery with no complications ranges from $9,000 to $17,000 without insurance, according to a 2020 study by the Health Care Cost Institute. This doesn’t include other postpartum care like follow-up visits or nutrition supplements that may be necessary in the year following birth. 

This Medicaid expansion could make a huge difference in the accessibility of health care for new mothers.

One in three women experienced a disruption in insurance during and after pregnancy, according to a 2019 report by Health Affairs. The report shows that this lapse of coverage leads to these mothers becoming uninsured 60% of the time.

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, the bill’s primary advocate, described its benefits in the Zephyrhills stop of the governor’s budget tour. He commented on how it’ll boost positive health outcomes for mothers, decreasing future reliance on services.

Women are at risk of death postpartum, with 12% of maternal deaths occurring up to eight months after birth, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission’s March 2021 report. Lack of Medicaid provides no help to these mothers.

“For the first time since 1976, this legislature took the lead to cover postpartum moms after they give birth to make sure that they’re healthy and extended that coverage from two to 12 months,” Sprowls said.

Tom Wallace, deputy secretary for Medicaid at AHCA, said in a September committee meeting that all comments received by the agency in its Aug. 9 public meeting were supportive of this policy.

The comments were unanimously in favor of SB 2518 with both Democrats and Republicans championing it. With Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the bill into effect, Sprowls pushing it and Democrat Sen. Lauren Book backing it, both sides agree on the importance of health care for new mothers.

With overwhelming support, it’s a wonder as to why CMS hasn’t finalized any decisions. It’s been three months and counting since DeSantis signed the bill, yet it hasn’t gone into effect.

Meanwhile, there are mothers and babies who critically need this expansion of Medicaid, which is why Floridian lawmakers and citizens should press CMS into finalizing this decision. Without any government push, it’s unclear how long it’ll be before anything is done.