Texas Legislature moves to give moms on Medicaid six months of health coverage after birth

Patients wait to be seen at the People's Community Clinic in Austin, which provides state-subsidized women's health services to low-income women, July 15, 2014.

(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – The Texas Legislature passed on Friday a bill that would ensure mothers on Medicaid have health coverage for six months postpartum — a measure intended to reduce the state’s maternal mortality rate, and offer a lifeline to moms grappling with postpartum depression or other health complications in the half-year after giving birth.

The bill would add an extra four months of health insurance for low-income women, who now get Medicaid coverage from pregnancy until two months after delivery.

Experts say that’s not enough time to address health problems that arise. A third of maternal deaths in Texas happen 43 days or more postpartum, many of them women previously enrolled in Medicaid who lost access to medical services, according to the office of the bill’s author, state Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas. Mental disorders were the leading underlying cause in those later months.

“I can’t imagine anything more devastating than the unexpected death of a new mother after the birth of her child,” she said in a statement earlier this week.

Black women die disproportionately while pregnant or after delivery, according to state reports.

The legislation, which now heads to the governor, stands to affect tens of thousands of women in Texas, which has the largest number of uninsured residents in the nation. About half the babies in Texas are born to mothers on Medicaid — about 181,000 in 2018. Many of those women don’t qualify for Medicaid in Texas before or after their pregnancy because the state has the strictest income eligibility limits nationwide, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The bill — a bipartisan effort backed by the Republican House Speaker — originally gave mothers one year of Medicaid coverage. That was slashed in the Senate to six months. The House accepted the change Friday, before the legislative session ends Monday.

The measure is expected to cost the state $49 million in 2026, once it is fully ramped up.

Experts and a state committee devoted to studying maternal mortality have both recommended giving mothers a full year of coverage after birth.