BILL WOULD GIVE NEW MOTHERS ONE YEAR OF MEDICAID COVERAGE
(AUSTIN) — Eligible new mothers would be covered by government health care for up to one year after they give birth under a bill considered by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday. As part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed in 2021, Congress gave states the option to choose to offer Medicaid coverage to women up to one year following the birth of their child. Current federal law requires Medicaid coverage for two months after birth. HB 12 sponsor and committee chair Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham said that as a pro-life state, Texas must look out for the health of women as they begin to care for a new infant. "You cannot raise a child without being healthy," she said. "It takes a lot." Last session the Legislature approved an additional four months of Medicaid coverage for post-partum women, but it was rejected by the federal government in part because it excluded women who had an abortion.
Senator Lois Kolkhorst sponsored HB 12, which would extend Medicaid coverage for a full year for women after they give birth.
Texas has higher maternal mortality rates than most other states, ranking 35th in mortality according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, with a rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 births. An interim study conducted by the Department of State Health Services found that in 2019, fifty-nine women in Texas died from pregnancy-associated complications and nearly half died within a year of giving birth. Those most at risk included black women, women older than 35, and women who did not have insurance coverage. The study determined that 90 percent of these deaths were preventable. The authors quoted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in recommending that the post-partum period be viewed as the "fourth trimester".
Among those who appeared before the committee in support of the bill was Dr. Margaret Whitney, a practicing OB/GYN in Austin, who said she's seen the consequences of a lack of post-partum care first-hand. "Unfortunately, I have become increasingly adept at supporting mothers and their families through their pregnancy-related complications," she said. "What is even more staggering are the women I never see again because they have lost their lives after bringing their baby into this world." Dr. Whitney said when post-partum women lose health insurance, instead of seeking care for complications at obstetrics centers, they instead go to ERs or urgent care departments that lack the resources to treat them.
Medicaid rolls have been essentially frozen since the public health emergency from the COVID pandemic began, meaning millions more women in America have received this kind of post-partum care over the last few years. Diana Forester, representing the non-profit organization Texas Cares for Children, said for many women, that was the first time they've ever had health insurance. "The ability to get those chronic conditions under control so they can be there for their families: that's what this legislation is all about. It's about saving moms and empowering families." Her organization reports that Texas would be the 38th state to take advantage of the new Medicaid post-partum extension options.
On the floor Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that would exempt certain everyday necessities from state sales taxes. "It provides meaningful sales tax relief to Texans at all stages of life," said SB 379 author and Houston Senator Joan Huffman. It would exempt wound-care dressings, adult and infant diapers, baby wipes and bottles, feminine hygiene products, maternity clothing, and breast milk pumping supplies. Huffman said the exemptions are going to cost the state about $225 million next biennium, but that it was money well spent. "This revenue lost will provide a lifetime of savings for Texans," she said.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 16 at 11 a.m.