Health & Human Services Chair Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) announces in March 2020 a bill that would extend the period of postpartum Medicaid coverage for Georgia mothers.
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Health & Human Services Chair Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) announces in March 2020 a bill that would extend the period of postpartum Medicaid coverage for Georgia mothers.

UPDATE: The maternal mortality bill — HB 1114 — passed the House Wednesday evening and heads to the governor's desk for his signature.

ORIGINAL STORY: A bill aimed at curbing Georgia's exceedingly high maternal mortality rates unanimously passed the state Senate on Tuesday. The bill extends Medicaid coverage for postpartum from two to six months and allows for lactation care and services.

The amended version of House Bill 1114 now goes back to the House for consideration with just days left in the legislative session. Proponents had hoped the bill would be even stronger, allowing for postpartum coverage for up to a year after birth.

Even if the final bill passes, the great unknown remains how the new programs would be paid for at a time of extreme budget cuts. 

Karen Owen, a political science professor at the University of West Georgia, said Wednesday on Political Rewind that the bill has widespread support, but its funding could become an election issue in November.

“The partisan part will come in how it’s funded," Owen said.

Rep. Sharon Cooper, the Republican House Health & Human Services chair from Marietta,  has long sought a maternal mortality bill, based on the fact that Georgia has one of the worst rates in the state. 

Cooper has called the time after birth “critical” for the health of the mother and child and said the bill also provides for lactation care.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: House Bill Would Expand Medicaid Access For Low-Income Mothers Post-Birth

There are about 135,000 births in Georgia each year, Cooper said, with only about 30 to 40% of women returning for a postpartum doctor’s visit. Part of the reason lies in the maternal care deserts in the state, March of Dimes President Stacey Stewart told GPB News in 2018.

In Georgia, 58 of the 159 counties are without any obstetric providers or hospitals that offers obstetric care, Stewart said. And many women don't have health insurance, despite the availability of Medicaid.

The deaths that occur often stem from chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes that could be managed with proper health care during pregnancy.

"About 60% of all the cases of maternal mortality, meaning women that die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, are avoidable," Stewart said. "If women had access to the care they need when they needed it, we probably could save those lives."

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Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women, Anne Schuchat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

"Alarmingly, states' maternal mortality review committees found that about three in five pregnancy-related deaths could potentially be prevented," Schuchat said.

GPB Lawmakers host Donna Lowry said funding remains a key issue.

“There is no money for it, of course, because the budget has been cut,” Lowry said. “So, it’s almost symbolic in this sense but Sharon Cooper has been adamant about pushing this through.”