Recently I was invited to share testimony in Trenton on a package of bills to improve outcomes for new mothers and their babies. I provided testimony to both the Assembly and the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committees.
As the state explores ways to reduce maternal deaths, one overarching change seems absolutely necessary: extend Medicaid from the current 60 days postpartum to a full year.
In New Jersey, pregnant women with incomes up to 205 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for Medicaid — higher than women who are not pregnant.
But thousands of these women, many of them working, lose coverage two months after giving birth — even though they remain vulnerable to pregnancy related complications for up to one year.
We should not create barriers to new mothers who need health care, especially at a time of rising maternal death rates. According to the CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the United States steadily increased from about seven deaths per 100,000 births in 1987 to 18 deaths per 100,000 births in 2014.
According to some statistics, as many as one in five of these deaths takes place between six weeks and one year after the birth — and more than half are considered preventable.
We know there are both personal and societal benefits to providing better postpartum care, including mental health services, primary care, and birth control. The mother is more likely to avoid complications. The baby is more likely to receive proper care, such as immunizations. And the mother is more likely to be healthy if she has another pregnancy.
Extending coverage for another 10 months for these women would cost the state approximately $8.7 million. And, we believe, at least some, perhaps all, of these costs would be offset by reductions in costly complications and hospital care for both mother and baby.
At the Quality Institute, we have long advocated for improved maternal and infant health coverage. We recognize the potential cost savings of keeping mothers and newborns as healthy as possible.
But most important is the human cost — incalculable.