Illinois made history as the first state in the U.S. to extend complete Medicaid coverage to mothers from 60 days postpartum to 12 months postpartum, in an effort to curb the country’s current maternal morbidity and mortality rates.
Women who have an income of up to 208% of the poverty level will receive continued healthcare coverage during their first year postpartum. The move is a huge win for maternal health advocates, who are pushing for federal policy to extend Medicaid benefits to one year postpartum. Currently, most women who become eligible for Medicaid lose these benefits 60 days after giving birth.
Extending Medicaid benefits is one of the best ways to improve maternal mortality rates and complications. More than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen after delivery, including roughly 12% that happen between 43 and 365 days postpartum nationally, according to the Commonwealth Fund. For Black women, who face higher rates of pregnancy-related complications and death, extending Medicaid benefits could be a huge life-saver.
"Every mother in Illinois deserves access to quality healthcare following the birth of a child, regardless of their income level,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. "I'm proud to announce Illinois is now the first state in the nation to offer eligible mothers 12 months of postpartum care coverage through Medicaid. This coverage expansion will further my administration's work to reduce health disparities in communities across the state and improve maternal health outcomes for women of color."
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) granted special approval to Illinois under its Section 1115 waiver, which allows approval for experimental or pilot programs that promote the objectives of Medicaid coverage. Medicaid finances 45% of all births in the U.S.
There are plenty of studies that evaluate the benefits of any sort of Medicaid expansion during both the prenatal and postpartum periods. Expanding Medicaid benefits resulted in a 10% decrease in women going uninsured or having to change insurance plans during the perinatal period, according to research from Columbia University. Three years after Medicaid was expanded in Oregon, the state saw a 1.5% increase in women who sought first trimester prenatal care. Another study from Oregon found Medicaid expansion contributed to a 29% decrease in low birthweight among babies born to women on Medicaid, and a 23% decrease in preterm births.
Illinois has reported some grim maternal health statistics in recent years, with Black women six times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related condition compared to white women, a 2018 report revealed. Additionally, 72% of pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois were preventable, according to the report.
“The women, babies, and families affected by postpartum can continue to receive the much-needed treatment and resources to produce healthy outcomes for mother and child,” State Rep. Latoya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) said. “We have more work to do to address the maternal health crisis in our state, but this is a step in the right direction."