OTHER OPINION: Medicaid Surprise From Gov. Reeves

Published 4:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2023

When it comes to extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers to a full year, the score among the most influential in Jackson is now two in favor, with one still opposed.

Gov. Tate Reeves recently sent out a statement saying that if the Mississippi Legislature sends him a bill extending postpartum Medicaid coverage to a year from the current two months, he will sign it.

Sundays are turning into a good day for advocates of extended assistance for new mothers. Two weeks ago, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who won the case that overturned the abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade, supported 12-month care for mothers in a newspaper column. And this past weekend it was the governor’s turn.

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To say the least, this is a surprising turnaround for Reeves, who has repeatedly said — contrary to all economic sense and medical recommendations — that he opposed any type of Medicaid expansion. He now joins the state Senate, which for the second straight year voted to support this extension for new mothers.

In his statement, Reeves said he is not changing his mind on the issue because of data that says extended Medicaid coverage helps women. He said the issue is “often misconstrued and mischaracterized by the ‘more government benefits no matter the costs’ crowd.”

But Reeves got it right when he added this:

“However, the fact is we live in a post-Dobbs world. We, as Mississippi conservatives, led the charge to end Roe vs. Wade, and I couldn’t be more proud of that victory. That legal victory ensures that more babies will be born into this great state and this great country. I believe that to be a beautiful thing.

“I also believe that added stress will be felt by more Mississippi moms. We have to love them. We have to support them. And — in a post-Dobbs world — we may even have to be willing to do things that make us ‘philosophically uncomfortable.’

“I’m willing to do that as part of our new pro-life agenda. As I’ve said many times, it will not be easy and it will not be free. But it will be worth it, as more children of God are brought into the world!”

True enough, the governor somewhat undercuts his data skepticism when he says that more mothers will be stressed. That’s just common sense, and nobody needs data to confirm that caring for a newborn is a demanding assignment.

But the larger point is that the most prominent elected official in the state has finally accepted the idea that some new mothers will need more medical care.

If anyone needs data, here it is: Mississippi’s pregnancy-related maternal mortality ratio is nearly twice the national average. We have the nation’s highest infant mortality rate, the highest birth rate before reaching the full term of 38 weeks and the lowest birth weight.

Given those sad numbers, how can extending Medicaid for new mothers hurt?

Reeves’ critics are sure to say that he’s making this decision for political reasons. And there probably is some truth to that.

His opponent in November, Democrat Brandon Presley, is on record as supporting extended Medicaid coverage for new mothers. And the governor could be betting that House Speaker Philip Gunn will hold fast to his opposition to the idea, meaning there will be no bill from the Legislature for him to sign.

Democrats are unimpressed. The minority leaders in the House and Senate released a statement of their own on Sunday calling Reeves’ decision “craven political theater.”

They claim that he could by executive order enact the longer postpartum benefit without waiting on the Legislature to act.

If that is true, Reeves will have to explain why his recent conversion does not go so far as taking that step.

Originally published in the Greenwood Commonwealth.