Georgia lawmakers approve more health coverage for new moms

An expansion of medical coverage aiming at reducing deaths among mothers of Georgia newborns is headed to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature or veto.

The House voted Wednesday to give final approval to House Bill 1114 by a vote of 144-0. Right now, indigent mothers covered by the state-federal Medicaid health insurance plan only get two months of coverage after giving birth.

The change won’t take effect until lawmakers provide $19.7 million to pay for it. Lawmakers are looking at more than $2 billion in cuts to the state budget and have yet to reach a final agreement on spending.

The measure would also require Medicaid to pay for lactation services to help breastfeeding women and their children.

Republican House Speaker David Ralston has made the extension one of his priorities, saying it’s needed to fight a high maternal mortality rate.

House Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sharon Cooper told members Wednesday that the extension will begin “to take care of the needs of our most vulnerable mothers who are at risk of losing their lives postpartum.”

Georgia has a high rate of mothers dying after birth, particularly concentrated among African American, rural and older mothers, according to a legislative study. Fewer than 100 post-birth mothers die in a year, but the death rate in one recent three-year period was 50% above the national rate. The study estimated 60% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable.

Of deaths, two-thirds were mothers covered by Medicaid.

Cooper has said many mothers don’t return for post-birth visits now, but hopes lactation care might lead more moms back to doctors’ offices.

For more than a decade, Georgia’s Republican leaders have resisted extending Medicaid coverage to most poor adults, as envisioned under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed extending coverage to some, but not all adults.