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Group Of Bipartisan Florida Lawmakers Want To Boost Support For Extending Medicaid For Mothers

House Speaker Chris Sprowls
News Service of Florida
Lawmakers, including Rep. Chris Sprowls (pictured here in a previous session), in the Florida House of Representatives hope to boost support among colleagues for extending Medicaid for mothers from two months to 12.

Republican State Rep. Chris Sprowls sounded upbeat at a press conference last month.

"This is already the best press conference I’ve been to," said Sprowls, the top House lawmaker in Florida, who's a Republican.

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He announced that House lawmakers are committed to helping children and mothers who are Black have the same health outcomes of children and mothers who are white by helping them access health care.

For decades, women in Florida who give birth and don’t have health insurance have been eligible for two months of Medicaid, the public health program, but now, a group of lawmakers in the state House of Representatives from both parties are working together to extend that 60 days of Medicaid coverage after birth.

"We believe that providing access to postnatal coverage for up to one year after the birth can significantly boost health outcomes for moms and their babies, and we know that healthy moms are better positioned to raise healthy and thriving children," Sprowls said.

Just don’t call this Medicaid expansion.

"No it’s not an expansion," he said decisively. "It’s an existing population of people who are already covered."

As long as it’s called an extension — it seems to work across the aisle.

"We are all committed, all of us, members of both parties," he added.

Democratic State Rep. Kamia Brown spoke at the same press conference soon after him, with tears on her cheeks. Brown's been pushing to get this extension for years.

"This extension is critical for mothers going leaps and bounds beyond what is offered in the past, and we’re talking about 60 days that was put in place from 1976," Brown said. "To be perfectly clear, extending this coverage will save lives. This problem impacts minority communities disproportionately."

In 2018, according to state data, Black mothers died at nearly three times the rate as white mothers. Alison Yager points to the uneven access to health insurance as one major cause. Yager is the executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project, a nonprofit organization based in Miami that's dedicated to making access to health insurance more even and fair by expanding — not just extending — Medicaid eligibility, which is an option under the Affordable Care Act.

Private insurance is too expensive for many mothers.

"Medicaid finances nearly half of all births in Florida, which is really a statement about our broken health care system as much as anything, that it's so difficult to access health care coverage," Yager said. "What this means is that nearly half of birthing people depend on our state program for essential health care in the months of their pregnancy and in the months right after pregnancy. It's really critical to remember that postpartum coverage is not just about protecting the mom immediately after the pregnancy, but it's also keeping birthing people healthy as they go into potentially a subsequent pregnancy."

Just like diabetes or hypertension affect how a person would react to COVID-19, those are significant risk factors for poor pregnancy outcomes, too.

Now, the entire state House of Representatives needs to agree to spend on this as part of the House version of Florida's budget. Medicaid extension would cost roughly $240 million. Federal Medicaid matching funds would cover most of it but Florida would need to put in almost $93 million of its own money.

If the House of Representatives votes in favor Thursday, it will send its budget over to the Senate for its own debate.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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