OUR OPINION: Missouri Legislature seizes an opportunity

Nothing is more expensive than a lost opportunity.

This year, the General Assembly seized an opportunity to make a real investment in the health of Missouri's mothers and children by extending postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Last year, the effort to extend that coverage from 60 days to a year after a birth fell short when conservative senators blocked it in the waning days of the session. They wanted to include language designed to prevent anyone who receives an abortion from receiving the benefit.

But the legislation failed to pass before the session ended last year.

It's no secret Missouri has a problem when it comes to maternal mortality. As a matter of fact, the state has been a perennial cellar dweller when it comes to maternal mortality rates.

From 2018-20, Missouri had the 12th highest maternal mortality in the nation, and three-quarters of the pregnancy-related deaths in the state were preventable, the Missouri Pregnancy Associated Mortality Review Board said last year.

In his January State of the State address, Gov. Mike Parson committed to tackling the state's high maternal mortality rate, calling the state's low ranking nationally "embarrassing and absolutely unacceptable."

Added Lisa Cox, director of communications for the state's Department of Health and Senior Services, "Missouri's current maternal mortality rate ranks among the worst in the nation, and an average of 61 Missouri women die each year while pregnant or within a year of pregnancy."

There was broad support for doing something to improve the state's performance, and optimizing postpartum care for mothers was widely accepted as the best means to make those improvements.

The federal government had given states an opportunity to expand postpartum care to one year during the pandemic. Missouri inexplicably was one of several states that had not extended the coverage. Yet the federal government had extended the offer again.

Legislation was put forth again this year to extend postpartum coverage. Legislators were told the extension would cover more than 4,000 people who otherwise would go uninsured two months after the end of pregnancy.

"If we want healthy babies, we have to have healthy mamas," said Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, who sponsored a version of the legislation.

The proposal earned bipartisan support from an ideologically-diverse group, including both Pro-Choice Missouri and Campaign Life Missouri.

There was a renewed attempt to tack on language to prevent anyone who receives an abortion from receiving the benefit. But the language was excluded from the version that was ultimately sent to Parson.

This time, Missouri truly seized an opportunity, and if Parson signs the legislation, Missouri's mothers and children will be the winners.

-- News Tribune