Mississippi GOP governor now backs longer Medicaid for moms

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FILE - Republican Gov. Tate Reeves describes the state's economic progress during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Mississippi Legislature on the steps of the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 30, 2023. Reeves did an abrupt about-face Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, on an issue for which Democrats have been criticizing him this election year, saying for the first time that he wants the state to allow a full year of Medicaid coverage to women after they give birth. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

JACKSON, Miss. – Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves did an abrupt about-face Sunday on an issue for which Democrats have been sharply criticizing him this election year, saying for the first time that he wants the state to allow a full year of Medicaid coverage to women after they give birth.

Reeves said on social media that if the Republican-controlled state House and Senate send him a bill to allow a year of postpartum Medicaid coverage, “I will sign it into law.”

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Reeves said he is willing to do so “as part of our new pro-life agenda." He said more babies will be born because the U.S. Supreme Court upended abortion rights nationwide last year with a case that originated in Mississippi.

“I believe that to be a beautiful thing,” Reeves wrote. “I also believe that added stress will be felt by more Mississippi moms. We have to love them. We have to support them.”

As governor since January 2020 and during two previous terms as lieutenant governor, Reeves has resisted efforts to expand the scope of Medicaid and other government programs. He has not publicly changed his opposition to a broader expansion of Medicaid coverage to working people with low-wage jobs that don't provide private insurance. Mississippi is one of 11 states that have not approved that broader expansion.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year.

Physicians in the Mississippi State Medical Association and businesses leaders in the Mississippi Economic Council have endorsed a full year of postpartum Medicaid coverage, saying it could improve health outcomes in a state with a high rate of maternal mortality.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and about 60% of births in Mississippi are to women covered by Medicaid. The state usually allows two months of postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Since the COVID-19 public health emergency started in 2020, Mississippi has allowed a full year of postpartum coverage, although many patients have said the state did little to let them know the coverage remained after the usual two months.

The national public health emergency is set to expire in May. The deadline, combined with the Mississippi election season, has intensified debate over postpartum coverage.

Brandon Presley, a state utility regulator now running for governor as a Democrat, said Thursday on Twitter that Reeves “doesn't have the guts to push postpartum care for mothers.”

“You would think ‘His Majesty’ would be able to persuade the Legislature to do the right thing,” Presley wrote. “Unlike @tatereeves, I don't think I know more than doctors.”

The two Democratic leaders in the Mississippi Legislature — Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville and Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez — criticized Reeves in a joint statement Sunday

“Saying he’ll sign this bill if it comes to him is simply a last-ditch effort to save face on an issue that the vast majority of Mississippians support,” Simmons and Johnson said of the governor. “It is not courageous; it is craven political theater.”

The Mississippi Senate on Feb. 7 passed a bill to allow a full year of postpartum Medicaid coverage, as it has in previous years. House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, has not said whether the House will consider that bill. The other Senate bills in recent years have died in the House because of Gunn's opposition.

Reeves, who often refers to himself as a “numbers guy," expressed skepticism Sunday as he staked out his new position on longer postpartum Medicaid coverage.

“The debate surrounding the future of those benefits has been fierce,” Reeves wrote. “And, to be perfectly honest, I haven't been swayed by the data that is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, often misconstrued and mischaracterized by the ‘more government benefits no matter the cost’ crowd.”


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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