Following Biden initiative, FL House Speaker pushes Medicaid expansion for low-income women with new babies

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced plan for Medicaid extension for pregnant women. Credit: Issac Morgan

Chris Sprowls, the top GOP lawmaker in the Florida House, is following an initiative from the Democratic Biden administration to extend Medicaid coverage for a full year to low-income women after they deliver their babies.

Tuesday, Sprowls didn’t mention President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed earlier this March that included a change to Medicaid coverage for pregnant women facing gaps in maternity health care. States have the option to provide the extended Medicaid health coverage.

But the House Speaker, a Republican representing part of Pinellas County, announced a plan to tackle inequities in maternal health care by pushing for the one-year expansion for maternal Medicaid benefits.

“Today the Florida House is making a meaningful commitment to address the disparities in health outcomes for our children and for their moms,” Sprowls said during a press conference at the state Capitol.

“We believe that providing access to post-natal coverage for up to one year after 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.”

Currently, the Medicaid program requires states to cover health care services for pregnant women through 60 days only during the postpartum period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, states now have the option to offer postpartum coverage under Medicaid for a year following a baby’s delivery.

In an analysis by the KFF, the new policy on maternal health care offers an incentive for states to expand the Medicaid program, which provides access to health coverage for low-income residents.

Florida is one of those states that has yet to expand Medicaid, which could save the lives of Floridians needing critical care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocacy groups for expanding access to health care for all Florida residents feel that Sprowls’ initiative doesn’t fully address the health care crisis.

“This is a big step in the right direction for low-income, hardworking Floridians,” Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health, said in an interview with the Florida Phoenix.

“Still, it would clearly be better for women and cheaper for Florida if we pursued a full Medicaid expansion where women would be covered before, during and after pregnancy. Nonetheless, we’re thankful to leaders on both sides of the aisle for their support on this issue.”

The extension for low-income women will likely go “through the budget process” to become law in Florida, according to Darius.

It’s unclear if Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson will lend his support. Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for the Florida Senate, said in an email to the Phoenix that both chambers will be discussing “budget priorities” this week.

“However, it is still very early in the process and the senators will be discussing this and other issues as the budget and associated bills move to the full committee and the (Senate) floor,” she said.

“Ultimately, differences between the Senate and House budgets are resolved during the conference process. The President has tremendous respect for the Speaker and always gives great consideration to any proposal he puts forward.”

According to the Florida Policy Institute, Florida’s Medicaid program offers coverage to pregnant women who earn up to 196 percent of the federal poverty level – higher than federal law that requires states to cover pregnant women with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level through 60 days postpartum.

For instance, the federal poverty level in 2021 for a family of four is $26,500, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

However, “the problem is that low-income women aren’t eligible for coverage until they become pregnant,” Darius added.

“Medicaid expansion would mean that more women wouldn’t have to wait until they were pregnant to start receiving regular care, which significantly increases the odds of a healthy pregnancy,” Darius said.

“That this is a huge step, and we are really appreciative, but there is so much more we can do if we value that group of people (pregnant women).”