A bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would increase the rates of federal government reimbursement for Medicaid coverage for women during both prepartum and postpartum care.
U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, is a cosponsor on the bill and introduced the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Stansbury told NM Political Report that the Advancing Maternal Health Equity Under Medicaid Act is important legislation for New Mexico because 72 percent of births in the state are covered by Medicaid.
She said that if the bill passes both chambers of Congress and is signed into law by President Joe Biden, Medicaid coverage in New Mexico would expand to include 90 percent of maternal health both before and after a birth.
“I think one of the things that it’s important to understand in general about health care accessibility in New Mexico is so many folks in New Mexico struggle economically. We have the highest rates among individual use of Medicaid in the entire country,” Stansbury said.
Stansbury said that in both New Mexico and throughout the U.S. thousands of preventable maternal deaths occur due to illnesses associated with a lack of access to medical care for rural, low income and communities of color. New Mexico’s maternal mortality rate of 28 deaths per 100,000 live births is higher than the national average of 20 deaths. Of the maternal deaths in New Mexico, 20 percent are Native American women while Indigenous people compose 11 percent of the population.
The maternal mortality rate in New Mexico is four times higher for Black women than the state average for all races.
“It would have a significant impact on our state by increasing coverage and access,” she said.
Similar legislation, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act is part of an omnibus health care package within the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House of Representatives but did not pass the Senate last year.
Stansbury said her office hears from constituents about the lack of accessibility and affordability and the lack of health care providers in her district. She called the situation “dire.”
She said that for individuals who live in rural parts of the state, the need to drive for hours for critical prenatal care, which requires taking time off from work and access to transportation play a role in maternal mortality rates.
Nationally, about one-third of deaths occur during pregnancy, one-third occur during birth and another third occur within the first year of birth. During pregnancy, cardiovascular issues are one of the leading causes of death while during childbirth, hemorrhage or amniotic fluid embolism are the leading causes. Cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle, is the primary cause of death after birth.
The state is already working on expanding Medicaid coverage to up to 12 months of postpartum care and hopes to have that in place by April 1. Currently, state Medicaid covers up to two months postpartum.
In addition, the percentage of low birthweight infants has been on the rise nationally since 2014, according to a government report. The preterm birth rate has also been on the rise nationally since 2018 and is higher among women of color.
“In New Mexico and all across the country, we see thousands of preventable deaths and illness associated with a lack of access for rural, low income and communities of color,” Stansbury said. “Black communities, rural communities, Indigenous communities disproportionately lack access to maternal healthcare.”