Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months could save lives, Kansas advocates say

By: - December 14, 2021 12:53 pm

Stuart Little, on behalf of 29 health care organizations, urges legislators to make permanent the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector of Kansas Legislature on YouTube)

TOPEKA — A group of 29 health care organizations are calling on Kansas legislators to permanently extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for eligible women to 12 months, a move they say could save lives and money.

During the pandemic, Kansas mothers’ coverage has been extended from the usual 60 days to 12 months. The health care coalition argued the extended coverage allowed mothers access to critical care and mental health services.

However, when the public health emergency ends, so will extended coverage for Kansas mothers, prompting calls for immediate action. Stuart Little, a lobbyist representing these groups, said the action would be easy to implement and benefit maternal and child health.

“Extending coverage to 12 months impacts an estimated 9,000 women annually,” according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Little said. “The need exists and the delivery of health care services to benefit our most vulnerable is a smart addition.”

Little presented a letter on behalf of the 29 Kansas organizations to the Bob Bethell Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight, which emphasized the need and benefits of extending postpartum coverage. Kansas would join about 30 states that have already acted to extend postpartum coverage in some way.

According to the Kansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee, about one-quarter of all Kansas pregnancy-related deaths between 2016 and 2018 occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum. Data published in 2019 by the American Journal of Managed Care suggests extending postpartum coverage to 12 months is associated with 1.6 fewer maternal deaths per 100,000 women, compared to states with coverage for only 60 days.

In the letter to legislators, the health care groups urged the panel to “support expansion of postpartum KanCare coverage to 12 months in order to save lives, improve health outcomes for mothers and babies, increase health coverage for kids, prevent interaction with the child welfare system, reduce disparities and save the state money.”

The organizations also suggested expanding coverage would save Medicaid costs long-term through early intervention and reduction in instances of postpartum complications.

A review of state Medicaid data by the Kansas Foundation for Medical Care showed 36% of Medicaid moms have a behavioral health diagnosis at the time of birth, and 26% receive a new behavioral health diagnosis more than 60 days after the baby is born. About 23% of inpatient stays more than 60 days after postpartum coverage were because of mental health issues.

“When you have a new mom with substance use disorder, about 94% of them experience negative outcomes if their treatment has to terminate early because they lose insurance coverage,” said Sarah Fertig, Kansas state Medicaid director.

Fertig estimated the cost of expanding postpartum coverage would be about $10.5 million annually and a little more than $4 million from the state general fund.

Sean Gatewood, representing KanCare Advocates Network, also pushed for extended postpartum coverage, among other issues, like disability rights, home and community-based services and expanding Medicaid. He said expanding Medicaid would support those looking for employment and allow earlier treatment for those with degenerative diseases.

“The COVID public health pandemic has underscored how important the availability of health care is to all of us as individuals and as communities,” Gatewood said. “Medicaid programs help thousands of Kansans live successfully in their communities and yield positive outcomes such as reducing the number of children in foster care, with better health outcomes, returning people to live a more fulfilled life.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.