Governor Wolf’s decision to join Medicaid program extending postpartum care to 12 months will save lives
I was rocking my newborn son to sleep shortly after returning from the hospital in 2013 when I learned I no longer had health insurance. After the birth of my son, I was removed from my Medicaid plan for pregnant women, and due to the lengthy process required to restart postpartum care, I was not released to Medicare.
Any mother in my situation would have been shocked and scared, but as a type 1 diabetic, I knew the stakes were particularly high. If I don’t have insurance, I may not be able to pay for my insulin, a medicine without which I cannot survive. I have rationed insulin in the past and was afraid I would have to do it again, risking serious health complications or even death. Instead of dreaming about the life ahead for me and my newborn son, I found myself imagining his life without me.
As a first-time mother who had pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure and swelling in the limbs, my birthing process was grueling. I was in labor for 21 hours. Preeclampsia is a leading cause of black maternal death in the United States. As an Afro-Latina, my life was on the line. And after the birth of my son, I was at high risk for postpartum health issues.
Postpartum health insurance covers both mothers and newborns and is just as vital as coverage for pregnancy and childbirth. Even under ideal circumstances, there are dozens of follow-up medical appointments within a year of birth to screen for birth-related complications such as blood clots or hemorrhages, and to check on the health of the new baby. -born. This is especially true following a high-risk pregnancy like mine. None of these tours are cheap, especially without insurance.
For years, Pennsylvania offered eligible mothers only 60 days of postpartum coverage. Still nearly 60% of pregnancy-related deaths in the state occur between six weeks and a year after birth. Sixty days of coverage just isn’t enough to protect new mothers, especially black and brown mothers like me, who experience disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality.
Across the country, more than 40% of mothers have their births covered by Medicaid. In Pennsylvania, the figure is about 35%. I was one of those mothers. If you qualify for Medicaid when you become pregnant in Pennsylvania, you are transferred to a coverage plan specifically for pregnant women. The pregnancy coverage was good. But almost immediately after giving birth, I was stripped of my pregnancy coverage and was not reinstated on any other health insurance, including my Disabled Workers Medical Assistance coverage, also provided by the Medicaid system of the state.
Enrolling and extending postpartum health coverage isn’t easy. Voters and civil servants faced significant administrative problems in registering and expanding postpartum health coverage. It took me months to finally be covered again after the birth of my son. The paperwork and administrative steps to go through seemed endless.
Fortunately, the Biden administration recognizes this and is dedicating federal funds to ensure states can more easily and quickly transition mothers and guarantee a full year of postpartum coverage. Pennsylvania began offering extended coverage in April and funding will continue for the next five years. Now new mothers will have continuous coverage and can spend more time bonding with their new babies. I am grateful to Governor Wolf for opting for this plan, which will save lives and would have avoided some of the problems I had during my first pregnancy.
I know what it’s like to go without health insurance after birth. I know what it’s like to have recurring headaches and low blood sugar — to learn how to breastfeed — while wondering if I’ll be able to afford my doctor’s visits and my daily insulin. I know what it’s like to wonder if my health might suddenly get worse. So I know firsthand how much of a difference this Medicaid coverage expansion will make to the tens of thousands of Pennsylvania mothers who depend on Medicaid for their births each year.
I sincerely hope that our leaders will make it permanent. It may not completely resolve the racial gap in maternal coverage, but it’s a welcome and necessary step in the right direction.
Knowing that my state and federal government are working together to expand health care is something that I – and many other mothers – greatly appreciate. Keeping moms and babies healthy will have a massive positive impact on American families.
Yamelisa Taveras is the CEO of Counseling Solutions of the Lehigh Valley. She lives in Allentown with her family.