By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Jeni Van Buer is a longtime early childhood educator, wife and mother, and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville who knows what moms and their young children need. A proposed bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months would fulfill an important need, she believes.
“Children develop and learn best when fully supported by the healthy adults in their lives,” Van Buer said. “The first three to five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for continued developmental success. If a child lives with a healthy and thriving parent, that will have a great and positive effect on the likelihood of that child’s overall health and developmental success. These are crucial years in the life of a child that we cannot afford to sacrifice.”
Medicaid covered 40.8% of births in Iowa in 2021 but new mothers lose their health coverage after 60 days postpartum, Common Good Iowa (CGI) reported. States have the option to choose whether eligibility for Medicaid coverage continues. Iowa is one of the states that has not yet extended Medicaid coverage beyond 60 days postpartum.
CGI, an advocacy group for Iowa families and communities, also reported that maternal mortality rates have doubled in the last 20 years. Among the women who died in the postpartum period, “about a quarter were eligible for Medicaid at the time of birth and their deaths occurred after their Medicaid postpartum coverage ended” (Iowa Maternal Mortality Review Committee, 2021).
Meanwhile, the Iowa Maternal Health Strategic Plan (https://tinyurl.com/yck9meyu) found that “Mental health conditions are the most common complication of childbirth impacting 1 in 5 individuals during pregnancy and the year following pregnancy. Untreated maternal mental health conditions can have (a) negative and long-term impact on (a) pregnant and postpartum (woman) and her infant. Mental health conditions are a leading and preventable cause of maternal mortality. Despite these negative consequences, depression and anxiety largely goes undiagnosed and untreated during pregnancy and postpartum periods.”
Among the strategic plan’s recommendation is to “Expand insurance coverage (Medicaid and private insurance) for pregnancy related services such as lactation services, doula services, and extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for 12 months.”
Extending Medicaid coverage would ensure that “New moms have continuity in their health care after pregnancy and medical concerns arising from pregnancy can be treated without high costs to the family,” CGI states (commongoodiowa.org).
Last year, the Iowa Legislature passed the Iowa MOMS (More Options for Maternal Supports), which provided $500,000 to help pro-life agencies support pregnant women and new moms with baby essentials and counseling. However, funding was not included for the extension of coverage for mothers who receive Medicaid, the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) reported.
This year, the Medicaid bill is back and appears to have bipartisan support. One lawmaker noted that fact in her recent e-newsletter:
“Bipartisan progress for new moms and babies: Two months after all Senate Democrats cosponsored Senate File 57 to increase postpartum Medicaid coverage for pregnant Iowans, we’re glad to see that House Republicans have introduced a similar bill, House Study Bill 226,” said State Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “Senate Democrats hope to see more bipartisan support for this common-sense legislation that would better support pregnancies and newborns in Iowa.”
Tom Chapman, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, said he and his staff are “actively talking to House subcommittee members about the bill and have been discussing this with legislators (along with other groups) for more than a year.”
“This is legislation that all Iowans can support,” said Sheryl Schwager, director of Johnson County Right to Life. “These extended benefits would encourage mothers to choose life, improve their maternal health, and ultimately help their families flourish.”
Lisa Levy, a hospice nurse and president of Christ Child of the Quad Cities, said she has been involved in the pro-life movement since high school in the late 1970s. Her career and her volunteer work span life from its beginning to its end.
The proposed legislation “speaks to the dignity of motherhood and these beautiful new children and how we can help these families,” said Levy, also a member of Our Lady of the
River Parish in LeClaire. Moms need many resources. “They need education on early childhood development and help caring for their newborns and support as new mothers, especially when they have other small children.”
Christ Child Society supports the Women’s Choice Center in Bettendorf (a pro-life organization) and Head Start in Rock Island, Illinois, and provides layettes to new moms heading home from the hospital. Home is where the mothering and parenting begins and support in those early years is essential, Levy says. It’s all about “mind, body and spirit — not only for the mom, but for the baby.”