In a state with one of the highest maternal mortality rates, the last thing we need is another foolish political fight getting in the way of health care.
But that’s exactly what is happening when it comes to extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum women, including new mothers, from two months to six months in Texas.
The state’s application to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers from two months to six months was denied by the Biden administration because of language within the state’s application that administration officials think could be interpreted as excluding women who had abortions.
State House Bill 113, passed in 2021, extended coverage to women who deliver a baby or have an “involuntary miscarriage.” In a post-Roe world, federal officials interpreted the wording as possibly excluding women who have had elective abortions.
We aren’t sure that was what state lawmakers intended. What we can say empathically is that this should not be a question about abortion. Women in need of postpartum care should get it in any circumstances.
The phrase “involuntary miscarriage” is not medical. And according to a staff member from the Women’s Health Caucus in Austin, that language was included to ensure that women who had lost a child were included, not that anyone was excluded.
The Biden administration’s zealous reading of the language may have shut the door on needed coverage in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates.
That said, state legislators are in a position to fix this problem if the language was indeed intended to include more women. If they balk, we will know that the administration was right to raise a red flag.
Thanks for an ongoing declaration of a public health emergency, no one has yet lost coverage. But people could begin to do so on a rolling basis, with the clock starting this fall.
We need our lawmakers to get to work swiftly in the next session to change the language in the statute and resubmit the application. In doing so, Gov. Greg Abbott should declare the application an emergency so that the Legislature can work on it when they return immediately.
The application’s denial is disturbing and risks women’s health care. But this is also an opportunity for our Legislature to correct another error it made in 2021, when it only extended postpartum Medicaid care for six months rather than 12 months.
This despite overwhelming bipartisan support in the state House for approval of 12 months of care, support that aligned with the recommendation of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee.
This should never have been complicated. We live in a state that does a terrible job of ensuring the health of women during and just after pregnancy.
But, thanks to partisan politics, we’ve botched it again.
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