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Support expanded Medicaid coverage for new mothers

Too many mothers are dying as a result of complications related to pregnancies and childbirth and state governments aren’t doing enough to prevent it.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics in 2021 there were 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. This was a nearly 40% increase in the rate of maternal deaths from 2020 and an alarming 89% increase in maternal death rates from 2018. The United States ranks among the worst countries for maternal mortality, just above Costa Rica with a material mortality rate of 20.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. By comparison, Canada has a maternal mortality rate of just 7.5 deaths per 100,000 live births while Ireland reported no maternal deaths.

It is time for members of the Wisconsin legislature to put their votes where their bumper stickers are and truly support life by supporting a measure to expand BadgerCare Plus health coverage for new mothers for a full year after the birth of a child.

Current state law provides the state’s Medicaid program to lower income mothers for only two months after birth, leaving many lower income mothers without coverage when they are most vulnerable to complications including postpartum depression.

Republican Rep. Donna Rozar of Marshfield has introduced A bill, AB 114, to change that and extend coverage for a full year after the birth of a child. This is not the first time that Rozar and other supporters have brought forward the measure, but with more than 50 assembly members and more than a dozen state senators signed on as cosponsors, it has a better chance in becoming law now than it has in the past.

This is a good thing, since about four out of every 10 births in Wisconsin is covered by BadgerCare Plus and extending these benefits will improve health outcomes for mothers and indirectly benefit the health of newborn children who depend on their parents for care. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services projects that if the expansion is approved, an average of 5,300 more women per month would be covered than under current law.

During a public hearing on a similar bill introduced in 2021, Dr. Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician and a state epidemiologist at the state Department of Health Services, told lawmakers that new mothers are particularly vulnerable to depression, untreated mental illness and substance use disorders.

Previous attempts to expand coverage beyond the bare minimum have run into a partisan buzzsaw with Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, including the expansion in the state budget only to have it rejected by the Republican leadership in the legislature. This gamesmanship has cost the lives of new mothers in Wisconsin.

The maternal mortality rate in the United States is appalling. Immediate action is needed to expand health coverage to new mothers as a way to combat these preventable deaths.

Being pro-life also needs to be about looking out for the health of new mothers.