Democratic lawmakers and advocates are urging Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) to schedule a vote on a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a year after giving birth.
The bill — SB 110 — would instruct the state Department of Health Services to seek approval from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum women to 12 months. It passed the Senate on a 32-1 vote in September but hasn’t moved any further in the Assembly in part because of Vos’ opposition.
“We are here calling on Speaker Vos to bring this bill to the floor and help address disparities and maternal outcomes in our state,” Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said during a press conference organized by Protect Our Care on Wednesday. “Wisconsin must act so families in my district and across the state have the opportunity to access a crucial support system that will address the racial disparities brought to light by the Black maternal health crisis.”
While newborns in Wisconsin are already automatically eligible for Medicaid coverage through their first year of life, mothers in the state of Wisconsin currently receive just 60 days of coverage after giving birth.
The option to expand postpartum coverage past the 60 days first became available to states in 2021 through the American Rescue Plan with the aim of improving maternal health and addressing racial disparities in maternal health.
Dr. Kristin Lyerly, a Green Bay OB/GYN, said during the press conference that almost half of pregnancy-related care in Wisconsin is provided through BadgerCare and that care is essential for women through the first year postpartum.
“When my patients lose their coverage at two months postpartum, they have nowhere to turn as they continue the long, arduous recovery from their pregnancy,” Lyerly said. “If you haven’t had a baby, you might think that the pregnancy is over when the baby is out, but that isn’t quite how it works. It takes a full year to recover from a pregnancy, and for women with complicated pregnancies, it can take even longer and require numerous interactions with the health care system.”
Lyerly said that the postpartum period is commonly fraught with many health issues including depression, anxiety, blood pressure problems and breastfeeding concerns. She noted that about half of maternal deaths occur in the year following the birth of a child but that about 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.
Lyerly said that extending postpartum coverage would allow her patients to live healthier lives by ensuring that they can get care for their physical and mental health conditions.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) said that the expansion of postpartum Medicaid coverage is “necessary to combat the severe physical and mental complications that arise beyond the initial coverage period.” She added that the racial disparities in maternal health outcomes in Wisconsin are a “shameful reflection of our health care system and its failures.”
According to DHS data, maternal mortality in Wisconsin from 2006-2010 was five times higher for Black women than white women.
Wisconsin is one of four states — including Arkansas, Iowa and Idaho — that have not expanded Medicaid and don’t have plans to expand it, according to the KFF Medicaid Postpartum Coverage Extension Tracker.
Several attempts have been made to pass the policy in Wisconsin.
Lawmakers introduced a bill during the 2021 legislative session to extend coverage to a year, but Republican lawmakers opted not to pass that bill and instead applied for a waiver with the federal government to extend coverage to 90 days. The waiver is pending.
Gov. Tony Evers has included the expansion to 12 months in his 2019, 2021 and 2023 budget proposals, but Republicans have thrown it out each time. After it was taken out of the budget in the latest budget cycle, Democrats tried to reattach it through an amendment but Republicans again rejected the proposal.
“Time is running out on this legislative session. We have just a few months before the Assembly and Senate will adjourn, and now is the time for our Assembly GOP colleagues to put the partisan games aside and get this bill across the finish line.” Neubauer said during the Wednesday press conference.
Neubauer noted that there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill and that it would pass if it were to go to the floor of an Assembly. Rep. Nate Gustafson (R- Fox Crossing) was added to the bill as recently as Jan. 10, bringing the total number of Assembly cosponsors to 58. The bill needs a simple majority of 50 votes to pass.
The bill is also supported by a wide array of organizations across the state including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Ascension Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin, Pro-Life Wisconsin and Kids Forward, according to the WI Lobbying website.
Rep. Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield), the lead Assembly coauthor, told the Wisconsin Examiner in August that she doesn’t see the bill progressing further in the Assembly for the time being, and that it’s likely the bill will come back again in a future legislative session.
“If you don’t have key leadership support, it doesn’t move forward,” Rozar said. “So you continue to state your case and you can continue to advocate and you can continue to make people aware of the maternal issues that occur postpartum, and you just continue to plug along.”
Neubauer said that it is up to Vos to schedule the bill for a vote, and that Democrats will continue to encourage him to do so.
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