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January 3, 2022

Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage in Kansas will improve health of mother and infant

This opinion piece by Health Fund President and CEO David Jordan and Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson originally appeared in the The Topeka Capital-Journal on December 21, 2021.

Kansas can improve future health outcomes for families by extending health care for new mothers and infants.

Unfortunately, significant racial disparities exist in maternal and child health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, national pregnancy-related mortality rates among Black and American Indian and Alaska Native women are more than three and two times higher, respectively, compared to the rate for White women.

In Kansas, non-white minority women are nearly twice as likely to die within a year of pregnancy as non-Hispanic white women.

To ensure mothers and babies have a healthy start to life and to reduce these inequities, we must ensure all mothers have health coverage for the first year of their child’s life.

In 2018, KanCare covered 39% of Kansas births. Before the COVID-19 public health emergency, each year over 9,000 mothers lost KanCare coverage 60 days postpartum.

Extending postpartum KanCare coverage to 12 months can save lives, improve health outcomes, prevent interaction with the child welfare system, reduce disparities and save the state money.

Recent federal policy change creates the opening for Kansas to extend postpartum coverage. Other states like Indiana and Tennessee are taking advantage of this opportunity.

A 2021 report released by the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity & Justice detailed 13 recommendations for improving maternal and child health, including extending maternal Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. The report recognized the important role of improving access to care in reducing health disparities.

Extending coverage can save lives. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 66% of all pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. The Kansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that between 2016 and 2018 nearly one-quarter of Kansas pregnancy-related deaths occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum. Nearly half of all pregnancy-associated deaths occurred in the same period.

A child’s health is tied closely to their parent’s health and access to health care. Parental enrollment in Medicaid is associated with a 29% higher probability that a child will receive an annual well-child visit.

Postpartum care provides mental health services as women gain services for clinical depression. Nearly 20% of Kansas women below 200% of the federal poverty level experienced postpartum depression in the year after giving birth.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, between fiscal years 2012 and 2017, parental substance use was the primary reason 70% of children under the age of one entered foster care. Extending postpartum coverage would enable mothers to access substance use services that could prevent interaction with the child welfare system.

Extended postpartum coverage is predicted to lead to a decrease in long-term Medicaid costs through the provision of early medical interventions and coordinated care, preventing postpartum complications and worsening chronic conditions resulting from delays in early identification and intervention.

Due to the public health emergency, Kansas cannot discontinue postpartum coverage after 60 days. This temporary policy change has enabled mothers to access critical health care and mental health services.

With new mothers experiencing isolation and mental health challenges due to the public health crisis, it’s critical to extend coverage to maintain postpartum checkups and treatment of chronic health conditions to prevent future adverse health outcomes.

The public health emergency is set to end this spring. The time to act is now, or each year 9,000 new Kansas mothers will lose KanCare coverage to the detriment of their health, their children’s health and long-term family stability.

Let’s create better outcomes for Kansas families by permanently extending postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months.

Tiffany Anderson is the superintendent of Topeka Public Schools and co-chair of the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. David Jordan is the president and CEO of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and a member of the commission.

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