RICHMOND, Va. — New moms receiving Medicaid assistance will now have their healthcare costs covered for a longer period of time.

Starting this month, Virginia Medicaid will expand from 60 days to 12 months of postpartum health coverage for enrollees.

Sara Cariano, a health policy analyst with Virginia Poverty Law Center, says the goal is to lower the maternal mortality rates in Virginia.

“A lot of women are still dying from pregnancy related complications after their coverage ends, so we want to get women in care, keep them in care, and not make them change health plans two months after having a baby,” Cariano said.

This change applies those enrolled in FAMIS Moms and Medicaid for Pregnant Women.

“Medicaid and FAMIS cover a third of the births in Virginia, so this is really going to impact a lot of women, and a lot of these women previously, after 60 days, didn’t have access to care because they didn’t have coverage,” Cariano said.

 Virginia Poverty Law Center's Sara Cariano
Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Sara Cariano

According to the Virginia Department of Health, more than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen 43 days or more after the end of pregnancy. In Virginia, the mortality rate among Black mothers is more than two times higher than the mortality rate among white mothers.

Kenda Sutton-El, the Executive Director of Birth in Color RVA, works one-on-one with moms at higher risk. 

“There’s always the stigma, especially when it comes to Black women, as soon as we go in there, the condition of our skin already puts us at a higher risk than other people,” Sutton-El said. “One of the biggest concerns is that providers don’t listen to what they have to say, or they don’t feel comfortable telling their providers.”

Non-English speakers and immigrants are also at higher risk of pregnancy-related health issues.

“The folks who are the most vulnerable across the board who have the largest disparities are also most likely to not know about the coverage or a little nervous to enroll in it because they don’t want it to interfere with immigration status or immigration proceedings,” Cariano said.

Dr. Tashima Lambert Giles
Dr. Tashima Lambert Giles

Dr. Tashima Lambert Giles, a board-certified OB/GYN with VCU Health, sees the impact of a lack of coverage first-hand.

“The truth is that a lot of our patients that are Medicaid have lower socioeconomic status. They have a lot more reasons to feel a lot more stressed, unsupported. They might have to get back to work a lot sooner than other moms,” Dr. Lambert Giles said. “This might cause them to lose that access and lose the ability to recognize if there’s something medically related that’s going on, and not see a physician, because they’re continuing with normal life.”

The expansion covers everything from regular check-ups, to substance abuse disorders, to postpartum depression care.

Dr. Lambert Giles said in her practice, she’s seen more new mothers struggling with heart disease, underlying conditions left untreated, and mental health issues.

“I think Medicaid expansion allows us to tackle all of those things, but most importantly, getting preventative medicine to patients so that they overall patient is healthy, and we can get a community that’s healthier,” she said

Children born to Medicaid/FAMIS enrollees are entitled to 12 months of continuous coverage. Criteria and benefit details can be found here.

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What Medicaid expansion means for new moms in Virginia – CBS 6 News Richmond WTVR