What's next for postpartum Medicaid in Mississippi after Tate Reeves decides to back it

Gov. Tate Reeves delivers the State of the State address on the south steps of the Mississippi State Capitol Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann sits second from right.
Gov. Tate Reeves delivers the State of the State address on the south steps of the Mississippi State Capitol Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann sits second from right.
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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who ran in 2019 promising to "say no" to Medicaid expansion, announced Sunday that he supports an extension of Medicaid coverage to mothers who are up to 12-months postpartum, a move he says is part of the "new pro-life agenda" that he has called for since the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Reeves, who appears likely to face a Democratic challenger in November that supports even further expansion of Medicaid, took to social media Sunday afternoon to announce his support for extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.

Postpartum Medicaid coverage was extended to 12-months nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that expires in April, leaving many states scrambling to change their own Medicaid laws and policies before the deadline.

Reeves is just the latest Mississippi official to support such a change. Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who led the legal fight to overturn Roe v. Wade, did so earlier this month.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has long been a vocal supporter, with the state Senate passing extension bills multiple times in recent years, only for them to fail to reach the House floor, with House leadership citing a lack of both data from other states and recommendations from Mississippi's own Division of Medicaid. In the months leading up to the session, Hosemann began citing recent data from Texas that showed positive impacts of their extension.

In his announcement, Reeves said he has not fully changed his mind on extension, despite announcing his support for it.

"The debate surrounding the future of those benefits has been fierce. And, to be perfectly honest, I haven't been swayed by the data that is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, often misconstrued and mischaracterized by the 'more government benefits no matter the cost' crowd," Reeves said.

Despite not being fully "swayed by the data," Reeves is still calling on the legislature to take action in light of the state's ban on abortions.

"However, the fact is we live in a post-Dobbs world. We, as Mississippi conservatives, led the charge to end Roe v. Wade and I couldn't be more proud of that victory. That legal victory ensures that more babies will be born in this great state and this great country. I believe that to be a beautiful thing," Reeves said. "I also believe that added stress will be felt by more Mississippi moms. We have to love them. We have to support them. And — in a post-Dobbs world — we may even have to be willing to do things that make us 'philosophically uncomfortable.'"

With Reeves, Hosemann and a majority of state senators on board, a bill would only need to gain support of the House in the final month of session in order to become law. None of the bills that have passed in the Senate in the recent session have reached the House floor under Speaker Philip Gunn and Medicaid Committee Chair Joey Hood.

Gunn has repeatedly said he is unconvinced by the data that outcomes improved in the years following nationwide extension due to the pandemic. Hood, who has not publicly expressed a position on extension, has until the end of day Tuesday to pass the Senate bill through his committee or it will again die without reaching the House floor. He has yet to call a meeting of that committee this session and none are yet scheduled.

Though Reeves promised to sign any extension bill that makes it out of the legislature, some question whether he could act unilaterally. As the state's chief executive, Reeves oversees the Division of Medicaid. He did not address that possibility in his endorsement of legislative action.

The governor's announcement was met by a wide variety of responses, from both political allies and foes.

The two highest-ranking Democrats in the legislature, Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, and House Minority Leader Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, released a joint statement criticizing Reeves, in part for not extending coverage by himself.

"The governor’s eleventh-hour endorsement of extending postpartum Medicaid coverage is hardly an endorsement at all. Saying he’ll sign this bill if it comes to him is simply a last-ditch effort to save face on an issue that the vast majority of Mississippians support. It is not courageous; it is craven political theater. The governor could extend postpartum Medicaid coverage right now, with his own signature, if he was truly moved to be the champion of Mississippi families he claims to be in today’s statement," the Democrats' statement read.

Brandon Presley, the Democratic nominee for governor who is likely to face Reeves in November, was also critical.

Other Democrats, though, expressed gratitude at the governor's decision. Brandon Jones, a former member of the House, applauded the governor's decision on social media.

"I don’t care why Mississippi’s governor wants the state to provide healthcare to moms and babies, I’m just glad he got there. It’s the right thing to do and it will save lives. The good public policy bandwagon is big and always open!" Jones tweeted.

Hosemann, also via Twitter, thanked Reeves for supporting what has been a priority for the lieutenant governor for years.

"We are grateful for @tatereeves support of extending postpartum healthcare coverage to 12 months. The Senate has passed legislation effectuating this change to be pro-life and pro-mother for 2 years. We are hopeful the House will join us and bring the bill to a vote," Hosemann tweeted.

Reeves also faced criticism, though, particularly from small-government conservatives. Steven Ultroska, State Director for Mississippi at the State Freedom Caucus Network, said extending Medicaid to new mothers is just the first step toward full Medicaid expansion. With Reeves facing minimal opposition from within his own party, Ultroska called on voters to back Hosemann's primary challenger, far-right state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

"Four years ago, he campaigned on being against Medicaid Expansion, but now that he will glide through the Republican Primary with no real challenger, he's championing MedEx. If @senatormcdaniel doesn't win LG, I can guarantee MedEx will pass next year, and Tate will happily sign," Ultroska said via Twitter.

The 2023 session ends April 2. If the Senate bill does pass Hood's committee by its Tuesday deadline, it would have about a week to pass the full House before the next legislative deadline.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: MS governor endorses extending Medicaid to mothers for one year