Utah Bill That Would Have Expanded Medicaid for New Mothers Falls Short
A now-defunct Medicaid expansion bill in the Utah State Legislature would have extended health care for pregnant and postpartum mothers living at or below 200% of the poverty index.
Republican Rep. Ray Ward of Bountiful sponsored House Bill 363 to protect pregnant and postpartum mothers from being kicked off Medicaid during pregnancy and for the first year after giving birth. He said concerns over the high rates of suicide in Utah informed his efforts to protect women when they are so vulnerable to suicide or drug addiction.
"The bill will not pass this session,” he said. “But it's not all bad that it won't pass. So, we tried a couple of variations of the bill. We got over to variation where we're trying to say, look, if a woman who's been on Medicaid, then we need to not drop her off of Medicaid after she gives birth to the baby, because that was happening sometimes. But then when we're running the bill, it turns out the Biden administration actually has a federal decision that right now nobody gets kicked off Medicaid at all. Things that we were trying to accomplish was at least for now kind of moot."
He said when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Trump administration responded to the emergency by allowing women to keep their Medicaid health care for three months postpartum as an emergency measure.
“They kept moving the goalposts, saying, well, we are still in an emergency, and we're going to keep it there for three more months,” Ward said. “The Biden administration came in, and they came in kept doing the same thing. But they said so that you know, so you don't have to worry what we're doing we're doing. We are doing it for the rest of the year until Dec. 31.”
Under federal Medicaid rules, he said the coverage would extend until March 30, 2022.
Ward said he sponsored the bill because the problem exists everywhere throughout the state. It was not just a bill addressing his constituents.
"Overall, in the state, we want to make sure that we have good support for mothers during pregnancy and after pregnancy,” he said. “We have a higher suicide rates in most places, and postpartum depression is a difficult problem anywhere and everywhere, and the urge to run the bill is just trying to figure out how can we help with those problems? And making sure the woman has access to medical care and to mental health care, especially in the postpartum period. That's something that's important."
Ward said suicide rates are substantially higher in the Intermountain West than in other parts of the country. They've grappled with the issue for years.
"It's hard from a policy perspective to know for sure what will help, right,” he said. “You can spend money on all kinds of things. You can spend money on a hotline. You can spend money on medicine, counseling, and social workers can help with people. But I do know medical care is important, and the ability to get counseling and mental health care is also important."
Ward said the $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill hasn't yet passed Congress, and it will take time to unpack it and determine how it will help Utah Medicaid pregnant and postpartum patients.
Ward said the Biden administration relief package includes changes to the Affordable Care Act exchange allowing for deeper subsidies and lower copays.
"Make it so that people who are on the Obamacare exchange, that are in exactly this income category between 130% of poverty and the 200% of poverty, will have considerably more federal matching funds to make it so that their copays are very low so it would be like those folks who are similar to being on Medicaid where most of their costs would be covered,” he said.
Representative Ray Ward will continue to monitor the issue, and as of this report, he does not know if he will sponsor similar legislation for the 2022 session.
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