By Geoff Pender, Bobby Harrison and Adam Ganucheau
Though they haven’t been given the chance to vote on it, a majority of House members want to extend health care coverage for moms on Medicaid from two months to one year, a Mississippi Today survey shows.
Mississippi Today is polling all 174 lawmakers on the issue, which health care leaders say would save countless lives across the state that consistently ranks near last for maternal mortality and last for infant mortality.
More than a voting majority in both the House and Senate — including numerous Republicans — told Mississippi Today they support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to 12 months.
Additionally, several lawmakers who said they were still officially undecided on the issue and would not give a direct “yes” or “no” answer appeared willing to consider it.
“I’m undecided, but the reason I’m undecided is that the leadership, for whatever reason up to this point, has prevented that from being brought up so we can ask questions,” said Rep. Jay McKnight, R-Gulfport. “I have some questions both ways on it that I would like to hear the answers.”
READ MORE: Where each lawmaker stands on postpartum Medicaid extension
Though the support is evident, House members may not get the chance to vote on it.
Last year, the measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate, with Republican leaders in that chamber calling it “a no-brainer.” But it was killed by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, who continues to say he has not seen data about how it would help save lives.
Gunn remains noncommittal this year about whether he will bring the issue to a vote, and he says he wants the Mississippi Division of Medicaid to take a position. State Medicaid officials, including executive director Drew Snyder, have refused to answer questions about the topic.
Several lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate — filed bills early this year to extend the coverage to one year. If passed, it would put Mississippi on the same page as 29 other states, including most of the Southeast. Eight additional states are currently considering full extended coverage or a limited extension of coverage.
The Senate, like last year, passed a postpartum extension bill out of committee before a key Jan. 31 deadline. But a similar House bill, filed by Republican Rep. Missy McGee, died in committee on deadline day without receiving a vote.
Rep. Joey Hood, a Republican from Ackerman who chairs the House Medicaid Committee, did not convene a single meeting of his committee before the Jan. 31 deadline, so the House bill died without a vote or even debate. Hood on Wednesday refused to say whether he supported the postpartum Medicaid extension.
The Senate bill, however, is expected to pass the full Senate chamber in coming days and move to the House, where Gunn and his leadership team will decide whether to bring it up in committee.
The Senate last year passed similar measures three times, and fairly broad Republican support in that chamber remains, according to the Mississippi Today survey.
“I’m pro-life, and I think being pro-life means you take care of these mothers and children,” said Sen. Chad McMahan, a Republican from Guntown. “I have voted for it three times and I plan to do so again.”
Gunn, who exerts broad control over the House chamber and legislation that moves through it, will have to designate the Senate bill to a House committee. Gunn’s hand-picked committee chair — perhaps Hood, the House Medicaid Committee leader — will then get to decide whether to take up the bill in committee. They could choose to let the bill die on the House committee calendar without consideration, or they could take it up in committee.
If a House committee passes the Senate postpartum bill, it would then move to the House floor for consideration and debate there. House leaders, including Gunn, could again decide to let the bill die on the House calendar without debate.
READ MORE: Pressure grows for lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension
This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.