The happy news of welcoming a newborn can become challenging and even turn tragic for thousands of New Mexico mothers and their families if they lose health insurance. Lack of insurance or lack of comprehensive postpartum coverage often exposes these mothers and their babies to serious illnesses, sometimes resulting in devastating consequences. However, the state has an opportunity to create a brighter, safer future for families by taking steps to support babies and new mothers during this crucial postpartum period.
Currently in New Mexico, many mothers are eligible for just two months of postpartum Medicaid coverage, leaving them uninsured until they again qualify for Medicaid. The year after childbirth is a challenging time for mothers, not just medically, but also emotionally.
Uninterrupted access to comprehensive postpartum health care is essential to treating such medical problems as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease or hypertension, and such mental health problems as depression and anxiety. Diabetes, when untreated during pregnancy, leads to congenital anomalies and increased birth asphyxia. Other problems, such as hypertension or kidney diseases in the mother, lead to increased rates of prematurity in the baby. Mental health issues in the mother also lead to poor outcomes for the baby in the first year of life.
These challenges loom especially large for families of color due to structural biases and lack of services. The maternal mortality rates are four times higher for Black mothers than for other mothers in the state. Native American mothers comprised 20% of maternal deaths, even though Native Americans make up 11% of the state population. Babies born to mothers of color face higher prematurity and mortality rates.
However, a mother in better health after the birth of a baby leads to improved outcomes for the next pregnancy, and Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham and state lawmakers have an opportunity to reverse these trends during the upcoming legislative session.
The American Rescue Plan Act gives states matching federal funds to offer up to 12 months of postpartum Medicaid coverage. More than two dozen states are taking advantage of this extended postpartum coverage by appropriating state matching funds and plans to implement starting April 1, 2022.
Extending Medicaid coverage for new mothers for the first year during this vulnerable period has many benefits, including:
• Infants being more likely to receive recommended pediatric preventative care services, such as well child checks and immunizations.
• Decreased costs of caring for a sick baby in the Neonatal ICU due to a reduction in prematurity or birth defects.
• Better family planning services so the next baby is born at a time when the mother and baby can have the best health.
• Improved continuity of care and reduced lapses in insurance coverage, which have been shown to be one of many factors contributing to the growing maternal and infant mortality crisis.
New Mexico has already made a strong commitment to such other essential early childhood initiatives and programs as the home visiting program, childcare and early Head Start. Expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers from two to 12 months is a logical and necessary extension of these efforts to support some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable members, and improve health outcomes for mothers and infants alike.