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June 16, 2023 was a big win for low-income Texas families.
Gov. Greg Abbot signed House Bill 12, which extends Medicaid health coverage for Texas mothers from just 60 days after giving birth to a full year.
This new bill, which is expected to take effect by the end of 2023, has massive potential to improve newborn and maternal health outcomes for Latinas and all mothers statewide.
Here are several big-as-Texas reasons to celebrate the signing of House Bill 12!
Improved Access to Prenatal and Postpartum Care
Half of women having babies in Texas get their healthcare coverage through Medicaid, according to data gathered by March of Dimes.
Many of these women are low-income Latinas who may not be able to afford another healthcare coverage option.
Going without health insurance can result in less prenatal and postpartum care, which increases the likelihood of adverse health outcomes for both mothers and babies, such as low birth weight, pre-term birth, and pregnancy and delivery complications, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Considering low-income Latinas already face an array of other health inequities, such as lack of access to nutritional food and maternity care within a 30-minute drive, the postpartum Medicaid coverage extension to a full year can be lifesaving.
Additionally, the extension will allow Latinas and all mothers more time to address postpartum health concerns.
Giving birth is nothing short of a miracle – and mothers need time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover.
While this recovery period varies among women, postpartum health concerns can occur well beyond Texas’ previous 60-day Medicaid coverage limit.
In fact, more than half of preventable pregnancy-related deaths occur seven to 365 days postpartum, according to a 2022 CDC report.
The most common cause (22.7%) of all preventable pregnancy-related deaths are mental health conditions, including postpartum depression. This condition affects one in seven Texas mothers and can develop up to a year after the baby is born, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Pregnancy can also cause and exacerbate chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and mood disorders, which can require prolonged care.
For these reasons, it is vital for new mothers and all women to have access to health insurance and quality healthcare beyond 60 days postpartum.
“[The postpartum Medicaid coverage extension] means they’re going to be able to keep going to those doctor’s visits, seeing their medical providers, taking their medications, and just focusing on getting healthy during that critical first year of their baby’s life,” Diana Forester, director of health policy at Texans Care for Children, told CBS Austin. “If you want to have healthy babies you have got to have healthy moms.”
Further Improving Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes
Although the postpartum Medicaid coverage extension is a big win, Texas (40.2% Latino) remains one of 23 states that earned a failing grade in maternal and infant health in a March of Dimes report last year.
On an A – F grading scale, with A being the best score, and F being the lowest, Texas earned a “D-” score.
How can Texas and the nation further improve maternal and infant health outcomes?
Texas is one of 10 states that has not fully expanded Medicaid, which broadens general eligibility requirements to enroll in the program, giving more people access to affordable healthcare.
If Texas were to fully expand Medicaid, millions more mothers and babies would qualify for healthcare coverage, especially in maternity care deserts, where more women are likely to be uninsured.
Texas and other states can also embrace more midwifery and doula services.
In the US, ob-gyns are the primary caregivers for pregnant women. However, in many other countries where maternal mortality is lower, midwives and doulas outnumber ob-gyns and are the preferred healthcare provider when it comes to maternal health.
Considering the US has an overall shortage of maternity care providers relative to the number of births, policies that work to increase acceptance of midwives and doulas can help.
Another way to improve maternal and infant health is for employers to offer paid maternity leave.
While the Family Medical Leave Act requires US employers (with 50 or more employees) to allow mothers to take unpaid time off (up to 12 weeks) for the purpose of pregnancy or child-rearing, there is no requirement for employers to provide pay during maternity leave.
Thus, maternity leave can be unaffordable, especially for low-income mothers, such as Latinas. Paid maternity leave could allow more mothers time to heal without financial pressures.
“There is a long road ahead of us as far as really addressing all of the things that are contributing to these poor outcomes for moms and babies in our state,” Forester told CBS Austin.
Help Push for Health Equity for Latinas and All Mothers
You can promote health equity by selecting your county and getting a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity issues, including access to healthcare, to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders to stimulate community change. Use the data in your materials or share on social media to raise awareness.