By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Action has been taking place since Mississippi Catholic bishops issued a letter urging statewide and legislative leaders to hear and pass legislation to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage on Friday, Feb. 24.
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman, III of the Diocese of Biloxi hoped their letter would drive leaders to action to extend coverage to new mothers from two months, as currently provided by Federal law, to a period of one year, by appealing to the states pro-life stance in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“Our faith affirms the value of every human life, and we have supported the legislature’s past action to protect the lives of unborn children. However, the commitment to life must not end at birth. We believe that access to affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right, one that is necessary for the flourishing of families and communities,” wrote the bishops in their letter.
“It is especially heartbreaking when healthcare is out of reach at the precious and vulnerable period when new life is created.”
Just two days after the bishops’ letter was delivered to every state legislator and the Governor and Lt. Governor, Governor Tate Reeves publicly reversed his stance on extending Medicaid to new mothers.
Reeves wrote on social media that if the legislature passes a law allowing for a year of postpartum Medicaid coverage, he “will sign it into law.”
He continued writing that we live in “a post-Dobbs world” and was proud that Mississippi led the charge to end Roe v. Wade, but now we need to “love” Mississippi moms providing them more support after giving birth.
“It will be worth it, as more children of God are brought into the world,” wrote Reeves.
After Reeves change of heart, Bishop Kopacz and a diverse coalition of faith leaders affiliated with Working Together Mississippi held a press conference on the front steps of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle within view of the State Capitol building, urging legislators and specifically Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn to allow lawmakers to vote on giving new mothers a full year of Medicaid coverage after giving birth.
“We’re saying to the Speaker of the House, join us,” said Bishop Ronnie Crudup, Sr. of the Fellowship of International Churches and pastor of New Horizon Church International. “Let’s do this because it’s the right thing to do for Mississippi because we value and we love our mothers and our children.”
Under the leadership of Gunn, bills over the last few years to extend postpartum coverage that are passed by the Senate have repeatedly died in the House without a full vote under his leadership.
On the evening of the press conference, Gunn publicly shifted his attitude toward postpartum Medicaid expansion stating that he would not block it from House passage. Gunn stated that his decision came after Medicaid director Drew Snyder sent him a letter in support of the extention of coverage.
On March 7, Gunn did just that with the bill passing both chambers of the legislature. After an 89-29 vote in the House, SB 2212 will head to the desk of Governor Reeves.
Now, provided that Reeves signs the law as promised, new mothers in Mississippi on Medicaid will be granted 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum.
“I’m grateful for the prayer, hard work and collaboration that brought this bill to the finish line,” said Bishop Kopacz. “One big step forward for the common good.”