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Medical Assistance eligibility could be extended for new mothers

Thousands of new moms could receive a full year of coverage through Medical Assistance, under a bill that would expand their eligibility from 60 days to 365 days postpartum.

“We have a mental health crisis; we have a substance use disorder crisis; and we have unacceptable racial disparities in maternal and infant outcomes,” said Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven). “We have to find a way to provide care for our new mothers.”

She sponsors HF521, which would expand postpartum eligibility from the federally mandated minimum to a full year. The Department of Human Services would be required to seek any necessary federal waivers and approvals.

The House Health Finance and Policy Committee amended the bill Tuesday and held it over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

A companion, SF735, is sponsored by Sen. Melissa Wiklund (DFL-Bloomington) and awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

Many women need more care than they receive during the postpartum period, and conditions caused or exacerbated by pregnancy and delivery – like hypertension or blood clots – can go untreated, Morrison said.

“Now, there’s just this gigantic … hole in their ability to receive care,” and many women have no option but to go to the emergency room in response to a crisis, she said.

Continued Medical Assistance coverage would allow them to create detailed, long-term care plans with their providers, and provide access to mental health care and addiction treatment services – both of which require intensive, ongoing care, often putting them out of reach, Morrison said.

The change would cost about $8.83 million in the 2022-23 biennium and $29.37 million in the following biennium.

Changes would be effective Jan. 1, 2022, or upon federal approval, whichever is later, though a fiscal note states that “extensive systems changes” mean the bill could not be implemented earlier than July 2022.

Rep. Liz Reyer (DFL-Eagan) asked if efficiencies could be found to lessen associated technology costs. A range of changes would be required and the department’s legacy IT systems often make even simple changes cumbersome to implement.

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