Postpartum coverage bill would extend critical health care for new moms in Maine

New mothers have unique health care needs that must be met in order for new families to get the best start together. But for many new moms with low incomes, health care can be yanked out of reach just two months after they give birth.

A bill by Sen. Anne Carney — LD 265, “An Act to Provide Women Access to Affordable Postpartum Care — would ensure new moms covered by Medicaid can retain their coverage for at least a year. Lawmakers should pass the bill to support new families and improve health outcomes for new moms and their children.   

Expanded eligibility for new moms expires too fast

The income eligibility rules for MaineCare allow new mothers to gain coverage from the program if their income is under 214 percent of the federal poverty level, compared to 138 percent for other parents. This expanded eligibility recognizes new mothers’ unique health care needs and helps ensure that moms have access to the care they need during a critical time in their lives and the lives of their child.  

Currently, the expanded eligibility guidelines are in place for just 60 days after a child is born. But we know it is important that new mothers have access to affordable care well beyond the current 60-day period. LD 265 would extend the increased eligibility period to 12 months.  

Recent medical research has shown that postpartum care should not be limited to a single follow-up visit with a midwife or gynecologist. Mental health, in particular, is a growing area of concern, and treatment of conditions such as post-partum depression may take much longer than 60 days. Other chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes in new mothers may also require longer-term monitoring and treatments. It is imperative that new mothers in Maine have access to care during this potentially vulnerable period.  

In recent years there has been increasing attention on the problem of maternal mortality in the United States, which has one of the worst rates of any major developed nation. Because of systemic disparities in access to health care, deaths among recent Black and Latina mothers are even more common than for white mothers. At least one-third of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States occur in the postpartum period, and many are preventable with early diagnosis and proper treatment. Expanding access to affordable care is integral to reducing maternal mortality for all Americans, but especially among women of color. 

Coverage for moms helps children too

Ensuring coverage for new mothers is also good for young children. Research has shown that whether a child has access to health care is closely related to their parents’ insurance status. If new mothers have access to affordable care and are seeing their health care provider for regular check-ups, there’s an increased chance that their children will also get good care in the critical first year of life.  

New mothers and their children are some of the most vulnerable populations in our state and those who are most in need of affordable health care. Protecting these Mainers and ensuring that they have the best start to their lives as parents is both a moral duty and a smart investment in our state’s future.