It’s 1 a.m. and Heidelberg native Courtney Darby, a mother of four, is sound asleep in her room with part of her leg wrapped in a cast due to a broken ankle. She is suddenly awakened by the sound of her 8-month-old son, R’Jay Jones, crying. Her daughter, Deysha Ransom, 13, who is sleeping in the room next door, wakes up and springs into action. She brings R’Jay to Darby, who breastfeeds him until he falls asleep. Deysha returns R’Jay to his room, and everyone goes back to sleep.
Speaker Philip Gunn is stubbornly refusing to allow the Mississippi House of Representatives to vote on a bill that would extend postpartum Medicaid care from 60 days post-birth to one year. For the life of us, we cannot understand why. The Republican from Clinton, who is not seeking re-election, claims that the bill would be Medicaid expansion and that it is too costly. He is wrong on both counts, and he is smart enough to know it. The bill would not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, simply extend a vital piece of existing Medicaid coverage for the same group of people from roughly three months to 12 months.
Legislative leaders killed the bills as a worsening hospital crisis grips the state and Mississippi continues to be among the unhealthiest states with the highest percentages of uninsured residents. State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney told lawmakers in late 2022 that 38 hospitals across the state are in danger of closing, and all are facing financial hardships. Physicians and hospital leaders have said expanding Medicaid, which would result in more than $1 billion annually in additional federal health care dollars coming to the state, would help hospitals pay their bills. Beyond just helping hospitals, expanding Medicaid would provide health care coverage to many more Mississippians — up to 300,000, according to some studies. But many in the Republican leadership of the state, primarily Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, have been adamant in their opposition to expanding Medicaid as 39 other states have done, including many led by Republican politicians.
Though they haven’t been given the chance to vote on it, a majority of House members want to extend health care coverage for moms on Medicaid from two months to one year, a Mississippi Today survey shows. Mississippi Today is polling all 174 lawmakers on the issue, which health care leaders say would save countless lives across the state that consistently ranks near last for maternal mortality and last for infant mortality. More than a voting majority in both the House and Senate — including numerous Republicans — told Mississippi Today they support extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to 12 months. Additionally, several lawmakers who said they were still officially undecided on the issue and would not give a direct “yes” or “no” answer appeared willing to consider it.