ATLANTA — While Georgia continues to be one of a dozen states that has not fully expanded Medicaid coverage and eligibility, state leaders took a small yet huge step Monday by expanding coverage for new mothers.  

State senators unanimously approved, Senate Bill 338, expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year. More than a handful of states, including Tennessee, offer postpartum Medicaid coverage up to one year.

SB 338, which is backed by $28.2 million in Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget, now awaits a vote in the House.  

“This is the number one recommendation of the Maternal Mortality Committee that has done great work over the last eight years trying to bring down the number of maternal deaths,” said Republican Sen. Dean Burke, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill simply funds the postpartum period fully to one year after birth, which is a time when many of the maternal deaths occur.”

Currently, postpartum Medicaid coverage is six months, still longer than many states such as Alabama and Mississippi which only cover up to 60 days postpartum. In April 2021, Kemp announced the state had elected to extend Medicaid state plan benefits from 60 days to six months to postpartum women with incomes up to 220% of the federal poverty level.

Georgia is ranked in the top five states for highest maternal mortality rates in the country and health officials link that to new mothers not having adequate health care coverage after birth.  

“And all of those numbers represent women who lost their lives or greatly diminished their health and their capacity and they didn’t have access to health care coverage in the postpartum period,” Democrat Sen. Nan Orrock said. “This is a great leap forward. … (To) take this step and invest our money and save lives and stand in the face of people who oftentimes are terribly impoverished, don’t even have a ride to get to a doctor much less the coverage for the doctor service.”

State lawmakers are also looking to cover people uninsured living with HIV under Medicaid. Nearly 60,000 people were living with HIV in Georgia as of Dec. 31, 2019, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

Sponsored by Marietta Republican state Rep. Sharon Cooper, House Bill 1192 would require the Department of Community Health to submit a waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to conduct a demonstration project that would provide treatment services under Medicaid to people living with HIV in Georgia. 

The project would be designed “to provide more effective, early treatment of HIV to persons in this state by making available a package of services, including antiretrovirals,” the bill states. 

Republicans have argued that small expansions to Medicaid as an alternative to a full expansion is a less costly option to the state. 

Last month, Kemp filed a lawsuit against CMS and related parties under the Biden Administration for rescinding the state’s plan for a slight Medicaid expansion that was approved under former President Donald Trump in 2019.

The plan would have added approximately 50,000 uninsured Georgians to a Medicaid plan but they would have to have a minimum of 80 hours per month of work, job training, education, volunteering or similar activities. People with incomes of up to 100% of the federal poverty level ($21,960 for a family of three) would qualify. 

“Simply put, the Biden administration is obstructing our ability to implement innovative health care solutions for more than 50,000 hardworking Georgia families rather than rely on a one-size-fits-none broken system,” Kemp said.  “They have attempted an unlawful regulatory bait and switch, and it is clear that their decision is not being driven by policy – rather politics – as they attempt to force their top-down agenda on the American people.”

CMS said the state’s plan for the qualifying hours requirement component didn’t meet the objectives of Medicaid, which is to provide coverage for low income or poorer Americans.    

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Postpartum Medicaid expansion clears Ga. Senate – Huntsville Item