Mississippi To New Moms: Drop Dead
Photo: Riverboat 'America,' 1900. Library of Congress photo.

A recent government study found that the maternal healthcare crisis actually got worse during the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus appeared, Black women were dying of pregnancy complications at four times the rate of white women, which prompted calls for Congress and the healthcare profession to take action. But a new report released late last month by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics found that the number of women dying during pregnancy or after childbirth increased across the board in 2020, with the biggest spike in maternal deaths among Black and Hispanic women.

African Americans make up just 13 percent of the US population. But Black women accounted for a third of all maternal deaths in 2020. It's believed the pandemic — with higher risk to pregnant people, and doctors scaling back in-person visits — played a significant role in the increased maternal mortality rate, especially since vaccines weren't available until the end of 2020.

That's a bit of context to keep in mind while we discuss our main topic: The Mississippi legislature, for the second year in a row, killed a bill that would have extended Medicaid benefits for new mothers past 60 days.

The Mississippi state Senate passed SB 2033 nearly unanimously in February; it would have extended medical coverage for new moms for a full year. But the bill was killed in the House Wednesday by the House speaker and the chair of the Medicaid committee. And why did Republicans in the state House defeat a bill that their Senate colleagues had passed, even though it's likely to result in worse outcomes for new moms in Mississippi?

Simple! They didn't want anyone to think they were doing "Medicaid expansion," even though the bill had absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama's hated Affordable Care Act. It wouldn't have increased the number of Mississippians enrolled in Medicaid by a single person; it simply would have kept a very high-risk group of people in the program longer, so they and their babies could have a more solid start in life.

No wonder House Republicans killed the bill. A more solid start in life sounds suspiciously like socialism. No more mooching new moms!

SB 2033 was axed in the Mississippi House by Reps. Joey Hood, the chair of the House Medicaid Committee, and Speaker Philip Gunn. Gunn readily admitted to the AP that he killed the bill because Republicans simply can't be seen as supporters of "Medicaid expansion."

“As I’ve said very publicly, I’m opposed to Medicaid expansion. [...] We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on.”

Gunn, the Mississippi Free Press notes, is a board member and former chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the rightwing policy shop infamous for writing model bills that can be introduced by lazy Republicans in state legislatures nationwide. ALEC haaaaaates Obamacare's Medicaid Expansion, although once again, the Mississippi bill didn't at all involve taking part in that evil Kenyan witch-doctor socialism.

That very deliberate confusion has really annoyed the Republican state senators who managed to pass the bill in their slightly more grown-up-people chamber. Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R) took pains to point out that no new enrollees would become eligible for Medicaid.

“In states that have enhanced this benefit, there are different provisions. In some, it’s six months, others up to a year. It provides (individuals), particularly the mother, with additional care. I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Blackwell told the Mississippi Free Press in an interview earlier in the session.

That really is a selling point for Republicans, we guess. They could vote for it with a clear conscience because there was no risk of helping more people.

There is at least one small consolation in this stupid fuck-tussle; as the Free Press points out, the federal government has temporarily extended the benefits for new mothers to 12 months during the pandemic. But once the federal emergency declaration ends (nobody knows when that'll be), the 60-day limit on benefits will snap back into place, and thousands of new moms will lose the benefit immediately.

That's an especially serious concern for Mississippi, where, from 2013 to 2016, the pregnancy-related mortality rate

was 1.9 times higher than the U.S. as a whole, and rates of postpartum mortality in particular are significantly higher than in other states where the overall rate of mortality for new mothers is much lower.

During the study period, “86% of pregnancy-related deaths occurred postpartum, including 37% after 6 weeks,” the Mississippi State Department of Health reported.

Well heck, then, if a third of postpartum deaths happen during the period where benefits will be cut, we're sure Republicans can find a good rationalization for that. It worked so well with COVID, when they pointed out that people die all the time for all sorts of reasons. Why should new mothers think they're anything special, huh?

Still, there are those radicals who insist on saying that Black moms' lives matter, like Cassandra Welchlin, executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, who said

We know that the maternal mortality rate is very high among Black women. [...] And so this bill would have afforded life. For it to have died means more women are going to die because they don’t have the adequate, necessary health care that they needed. It’s shocking. It’s disappointing.

Well sure, but on the other hand, it seems awfully selfish of her to think only of the risk to women's lives and health. What about the risk to a white Republican lawmaker who might be primaried by another Republican accusing him of expanding Medicaid?

Besides, when the AP asked Rep. Gunn about the potentially life-saving care SB 2033 would have provided, he explained, “That has not been a part of the discussions that I’ve heard,” because why would he want to hear something like that? He's much more interested in cutting taxes and banning abortion — as House speaker, Gunn helped push through the Mississippi abortion law that may lead to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. Now that's something to be proud of, because Rep. Gunn is very "pro life" when it comes to people who aren't actually born yet. After that, they should stop being lazy takers and get a job. Two months is old enough to start pulling your weight, even if you can't literally do that just yet.

[Mississippi Free Press / Beckett's Hospital Review / CDC]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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