A coalition of religious leaders pressed the Mississippi legislature to extend postpartum Medicaid care for women last month. After years of advocacy, they finally got their wish in an election year.
Conceding to mothers, religious leaders, and a competitive Democrat in his re-election campaign, Gov. Tate Reeves finally agreed to extend Medicaid healthcare coverage to new mothers.
Reeves signed Senate Bill 2212 into law this month, expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage from two to 12 months, bringing the state more in line with the rest of the U.S. Recalcitrant Republican leadership had made Mississippi one of the last states to refuse to extend coverage.
Reeves said on Twitter that his decision was the right thing to do after he had worked so hard to end body autonomy for thousands of Mississippi women.
“[…] while the overturning of Roe is something every pro-life American can be proud of […] it was about building a culture of life throughout our state and our nation. It was about saving lives and it was about tipping the scales toward life,” Reeves wrote.
Reeves had no such feeling for “tipping the scales toward life” in the years leading up to last week, despite more than two-thirds of babies born in Mississippi being indirect Medicaid recipients. Up until his February endorsement, Reeves advocated against extending postpartum Medicaid. Bills submitted by Democrats to do the exact same thing as SB 2212 died in committees during the 2020 legislative session and as late as last year after being left to die by MSGOP leaders dictating House and Senate committees. Reeves remained noncommittal on the issue as recently as last month, telling reporters that the data on postpartum Medicaid expansion “is incomplete at best […]”
A coalition of faith leaders recently met within sight of the state Capitol to press for passage of the bill extending care.
Lorenzo Neal, pastor of New Bethel AME Church of Jackson, urged legislators and Reeves to behave differently than in earlier sessions and consider the health benefits of extending care in a state beset with pregnancy-related health problems.
“Mississippi’s pregnancy-related mortality rate is 36 per 100,000 births, almost twice as high as the national rate,” Neal said. “Pregnancy-related deaths rose by 10 percent in three years, and according to the most recent data by the Mississippi State Department of Health, Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in Mississippi.”
The fatality rate of Black mothers rose to more than 60 per 100,000, Neal added, while that same rate dropped for white mothers from 18.9 to roughly 16 per 100,000 births.
Religious leaders supported past efforts to extend Medicaid care; however, what was different this time was Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, coupled with Reeves’ low poll numbers in an election year.
Public pressure to extend postpartum care ramped up as Reeves and other Republicans fought to frame their effort to overturn Roe as a “pro-life issue,” rather than a push to control women. Polls suggest a majority of Mississippi voters want to keep Roe V. Wade intact and opposed the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. In 2011 a "personhood" amendment that would have legally defined human life as beginning at the moment of fertilization failed by a wide margin, even among notoriously conservative Mississippi voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters voted "no" to the 2011 amendment and only 41% voted in favor.
Reeves and the MSGOP’s hostility to Roe remains unpopular, and now Reeves must do damage control as his re-election campaign heats up against Democrat, Brandon Presley, who does not advocate ending Roe.
Presley ribbed Reeves on Twitter for his last-minute sop to voters.
“Look, I called on @tatereeves to change his stance on postpartum care for mothers and he did,” Presley wrote. “Let’s see if he will do the same on the grocery tax. Heck, I might actually get our whole platform passed before the election and still win. It’s worth a shot.”
Presley later accused Reeves of “chang(ing) horses midstream,” and warned that Reeves did not “understand the struggles of working people.”
A recent Magnolia Tribune/Mason-Dixon Polling survey put Presley within striking distance of Reeves, with 46% of registered voters backing Reeves and 39% backing Presley. Presley has an advantage in that poll among independent voters who back Presley over Reeves 42% to 37%.
Reeves suffers from a high unfavorable rating in the largely Republican state. A February 13 Tulchin Research poll showed 54% of respondents personally disliking Reeves, and Presley beating Reeves 47% to 43%. An additional Siena College poll commissioned by local paper Mississippi Today discovered 56% of poll participants preferring “someone else” for governor, and only 31% supporting Reeves.
The expansion will kick in after July 1 of this year.