A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is sponsoring legislation that they hope will save the lives of women and infants in Missouri, and in doing so, move the state farther from the bottom in the nation in infant and maternal mortality.
Their proposals would extend MO HealthNet or Show-Me Healthy Babies coverage for low-income pregnant women to a full year after the end of their pregnancy. Currently that coverage stops after 60 days.
Six representatives have filed that proposal, including Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Patterson (R-Lees Summit).
“The wellbeing of the child is based upon the wellbeing of the mother, so that’s why we’re really worried about, and we really want to focus on, healthcare for the mother, because it affects the child,” said Patterson.
He says there are about 5,000 women in Missouri who don’t have insurance coverage either through the state, personal coverage, or an employer.
“The data are very clear that it’s critically important. You’re talking about the physical development of the child, development of the brain, that they have support, and one of those things is having a mother that can be there. For example if your mother is in the hospital for a mental crisis or high blood pressure they can’t be there for the child so that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Governor Mike Parson (R) in his State of the State Address earlier this month said, “we are heartbroken to be failing,” in the area of infant mortality, with Missouri ranking 44th in the nation for its “abnormally high” rate.
Kansas City Democrat Patty Lewis calls the situation, “abysmal.” She said in a Department of Health and Senior Services report covering 2017 to 2019, “Something that was pretty astounding to me based on their findings is 75-percent of the deaths are preventable. As [someone with a] background in nursing, if we can prevent something that’s what I want to do,” said Lewis.
She said in the years covered by the report an average of 61 women died while pregnant or within one year of pregnancy, with 68 in 2018.
Freshman representative Melanie Stinnett (R-Springfield) said maternal healthcare was an issue that voters talked to her about leading up to her election in November.
“I work in the realm of healthcare and I work with a lot of families with children with disabilities, specifically, but also work really closely with organizations like The Doula Foundation and midwife groups in Springfield so it’s certainly something that’s come up in Springfield and a topic that has been something that I’ve talked about in our community,” said Stinnett.
Representative Brad Pollitt (R-Sedalia) said the data about how many of those deaths could have been prevented weighs heavily on him.
“It’s not the state’s job, it’s not the taxpayer’s job to financially take care of every individual from birth to death. That’s not what this is doing. This is giving someone an opportunity to start off on a better life and if we can do that then I just think it’s the right thing to do and I think it shows that we do care as a party about life after the baby’s born, and about the mother’s life.”
The Republican sponsors of the bill acknowledge that it also relates to their party’s identity regarding its pro-life stance. Bishop Davidson (R-Republic) said his party is often criticized as only supporting life before birth, but this bill is one thing that demonstrates otherwise.
“We carried it before that Dobbs case. We’re going to carry it after that Dobbs case. We’re interested in lives, and lives being fulfilled from conception to death, and so I see this piece of legislation as a part of a holistic agenda that is pro-life.”
Representative LaKeySha Bosley (D-St. Louis), who is for the fourth time sponsoring this proposal, says that it is “imperative” after Dobbs, “as we did pass the abortion ban, and [even] before we passed House Bill 126, the heartbeat bill, women who were in rural or underserved communities were dying [in] childbirth.”
Patterson agrees with his fellow Republicans, “We’re a pro-life state. I’m very proud to be pro-life, but that also means taking care of these children that are born. This is a measure that would ensure that the mother has healthcare for a year after they’re born, which is critically important to the wellbeing of the newborn baby.”
Bosley notes that while maternal mortality rates are an issue statewide, they hit some in Missouri harder than others.
Bosley is glad that this proposal has gained more sponsors and a lot of media attention and she hopes it will lead to more.
“I’m happy that it’s a hot topic. Let’s go further than just the 12th months. Let’s talk about doulas. Let’s go into the holistic conversation about how we can provide some assistance to doulas and have them be reimbursed,” adding, “Extending the coverage from the three months to the twelve months is just one of the small things that we can do, and it may seem small but it’s going to mean so much to a lot more people across the state.”
Patterson observes that the broad appeal of this plan isn’t limited to the House but extends to the Senate, where two versions have been filed and have already received a hearing. He and the other sponsors share great optimism that this will pass this year.
None of the House versions of this bill have been referred to a committee.