Bipartisan panel pushes Medicaid expansion for new mothers

A number of Republicans and Democrats at the state level support expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers, postpartum, to combat high maternal mortality rates.

ATLANTA — A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers pushed support of Medicaid coverage extension for new mothers to combat maternal mortality.

At the Georgians for a Healthy Future's "Health Care Unscrambled" breakfast on Tuesday, the panel members talked about health care legislation they think could sneak into the conversation this legislative session.

Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee; Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta; and Reps. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, and Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners, all talked health care issues before the legislative session started for the day.

A number of Republicans and Democrats support expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers, postpartum, to combat high maternal mortality rates.

A House study committee on maternal mortality recommended extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a year. But with budget cuts mandated by the governor and programs that would have bolstered maternal mortality research already on the chopping block, the likelihood of the expansion is up in the air.

“The budget is a moral document,” Moore said. “It shows what our priorities as a state are. If we are not prioritizing new mothers, then our priorities are way off.”

Lott said extending coverage is a “real possibility.”

“It's certainly a conversation that we're having, and we think there's a real good push and some real supporters to doing that. I think that's a great step forward.”

But the bipartisan conversations hit a wall when questions were asked about Gov. Brian Kemp’s Medicaid waiver proposals.

Watson said the Medicaid waiver proposal, which requires an 80-hour-a-month log of “qualifying work activities," is a “hand up, not a hand out.” Watson noted waiver legislation made its way through his committee last session.

“The idea is that if you are learning a job or job skills and you will not stay on Medicaid, which none of us should be advocating for,” he said. “The whole process is that the government is a safety net for people in poverty so hopefully we can help them out of poverty.”

Jones argued that often, people have the preconceived notion that people enjoy being unemployed.

“No one wants to be there,” he said. “That's not an enjoyable thing.”

Lott said expanding Medicaid would force a category of individuals off of subsidized private plans and onto Medicaid plans that would require traveling further to a Medicaid provider that is not their preferred doctor.

But Democrats argued the cost to cover a small number of Georgians versus the same cost to cover thousands under full Medicaid expansion is the real problem.

“We could have covered half a million people in this state for the same amount of money it would cost to cover a fraction,” Moore said. “To me that just screams fiscal irresponsibility.”

Expected health care legislation

Lawmakers expect legislation that addresses “surprise billing” and the drug market control of pharmacy benefit managers.

Watson said there will be legislation to address “surprise” or balanced billing, when a patient believes their medical services are covered and is then hit with exorbitant medical bills post-care.

Watson called the legislation on the horizon a "good compromise."

“If we do not pass balanced billing or surprise billing this year, I don’t think it will be a successful session,” he said.

The Senate Majority Caucus announced on the first day of the session that bills that create limits for pharmacy benefit managers will be a priority.

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.

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