Wyoming is One Step Closer to Needed Extension of Health Insurance for New Moms

On the last day for bills on General File to be heard, after an hour of debate, and 33 ‘aye’ votes, HB04 passed the Committee of the Whole vote. Then, the bill sailed through the Second and Third Reading without amendments and with a final vote of 34 ayes and 28 noes. This bill would extend Medicaid coverage for an existing covered population, specifically low-income pregnant women and new mothers, from 60 days to 12 months postpartum.

Maternal postpartum health risks include stroke, heart disease, blood loss, and death. Almost one in five women report having no health insurance three months after giving birth, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. One in ten deaths of new mothers occurs between six weeks and one year postpartum, according to the 2022 Wyoming Counts Kids Data Book.

The postpartum extension to cover the full year after giving birth is essential because some postpartum complications–like postpartum depression–don’t come on until well after the 60-day period has expired. Maternal depression and anxiety can occur up to a year after pregnancy ends; it is the most common complication of pregnancy.

How low is low-income?

One factor that can contribute to postpartum health issues is stress caused by life circumstances–such as not having enough money–among others. Rep. Steve Harshman, a vocally pro-life advocate for the bill, pointed out that the new mothers eligible for this program are making less than 159% of the poverty level. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, that is around $28,000 per year for a mother and infant.

A third of mothers who gave birth in Wyoming in 2021 were unmarried, according to the Wyoming KidsCount Data Center. Caring for an infant as a single parent can heighten the stress of a new baby, and without a partner to share late-night duties, sleep deprivation can intensify any health complications existing after birth.

These single moms making about $28,000 per year also often lack access to any other comprehensive health insurance programs, such as employer-sponsored insurance plans (most low-paying jobs don’t provide it), getting on her partner’s plan (these usually require being married), or enrolling in (non-pregnancy) Family Caretaker Medicaid. The eligibility for the latter program is currently reserved for the lowest income Wyoming citizens who are caregivers of children and make less than about $9,000 annually and/or qualify another way, such as due to a disability. New moms can apply for the Pregnant By Choice program which provides contraception and reproductive healthcare after they are disenrolled from Wyoming Pregnant Women Medicaid. However, any other health issues, such as mental health care or a heart issue, would not be covered.

What do the legislators have to say?

Representative O’Hearn, who heard more than four hours of testimony on HB4 in the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, said simply, “Healthy mothers equal healthy, healthy babies. We’re all in for healthy babies. From the point of conception until natural death. Take care of the mother, the baby will be taken care of also.”

Some legislators brought their views on abortion to the debate. Rep. JT Larson said,  “I am pro-life; I do support this bill. The question is do we or do we not support mothers who need this help? How can we say we don’t want the government involved in postpartum care but we want the government involved in abortion prohibition? In my opinion, you can’t have it both ways. Thank you.”

The Wyoming Women’s Foundation has been following the topic since the close of the 2022 Budget Session when they were among several others to request that maternal health be studied in the interim. This bill came out of that study by the Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee. WYWF’s interest is in women having access to jobs that pay a self-sufficient wage. Maintaining good health is a key component to getting and retaining a job.

“We are really grateful to see the Legislature moving a bill forward that would enable moms to access continuous health care for a year after giving birth. Often, complications that arise during this time can be prevented with basic postpartum care,” said Marissa Carpio, Policy Associate with WYWF.

Remaining hurdles

A postpartum coverage extension has made the long journey from an interim topic to a bill, HB04, debated energetically on the House floor. This is one small step in the process; the bill still has to make it through the entirety of the process on the Senate side.

Rebekah Hazelton, Director of WYWF said, “We know that a mom earning $28,200 annually isn’t making a self-sufficient wage yet. Healthcare is a luxury she can’t afford right now. Low-income moms need some support to get healthy enough to go back to work and to pursue higher paying employment. This bill would provide just that. Better health outcomes for mothers mean better outcomes for their babies. And healthy families mean a stronger Wyoming.”

Questions? Want to testify or share your story? Email at marissa@wycf.org.