EDITORIAL | Pro Life? Arkansas should reconsider expanding Medicaid for new mothers

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Last week, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a roundtable at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences with other political leaders and medical professionals to discuss ways to provide better health care for women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth.

It's an important issue. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arkansas has the highest pregnancy-related death rate in the country, about double the national average.

There are several reasons, including availability of and access to pre- and post-natal care. One of the keys to getting regular care is affordability;

During pregnancy and for 60 days after giving birth, Arkansas expands income eligibility for Medicaid coverage if their income is up to 214% of the federal poverty line. After 60 days, eligibility drops to up to 138% of the poverty line.

That means a lot of new mothers are dropped from Medicaid two months after giving birth.

Two OB-GYNs said at the roundtable that about 30% of maternal deaths occur beyond those 60 days.

The federal government will provide funding so states can offer expanded Medicaid coverage at the higher income level for up to a year after giving birth. Most states have taken advantage of the funding.

But not Arkansas. It's one of only four states that have refused to expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers. And it doesn't look like Gov. Sanders is willing to consider the idea anytime soon. Instead, the governor said the state should do a better job of transitioning new mothers off Medicaid and onto "other coverage."

Well, the problem is there has to be some other coverage for any transition to happen. Just what the coverage might be, and how it was to be paid for, was left unspecified. Private insurance is expensive. And many low-income workers don't have access to health insurance through their workplace. So the only alternative that comes immediately to mind is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Has he governor changed her mind about President Barack Obama's (and then-VP Joe Biden's) signature program?

The state Department of Human Services estimates the yearly cost to the state for expanding Medicaid coverage would be about $2.8 million, with the federal government covering an additional $7.2 million. In our view thats a good deal.

But lawmakers are apparently lukewarm to the idea as well. A bill to extend Medicaid didn't make it to a vote in last year's legislative session.

So what's the problem? In a supposed pro-life state, why aren't elected officials willing to do something that can so easily help safeguard the lives of new mothers?

That's a question only the governor and state lawmakers can answer.

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