Rep. Sharon Cooper

Rep. Sharon Cooper presents House Bill 1114 on the floor on June 24.

ATLANTA — The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation Wednesday that extends Medicaid coverage for new mothers to six months in an effort to curb the state’s high maternal mortality rates.

After uncertainty on whether Fiscal Year 2021 budget – upended by COVID-19 – would be able to fund it, the final budget proposal includes the full six-month coverage extension as well as dollars for lactation care.

More than $19.6 million to cover the Medicaid extension is included in the $26 billion spending plan.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and maternal health advocates are praising passage of the bill — House Bill 1114 — as a big step in addressing maternal mortality in Georgia, especially for the state’s poorest mothers.

Georgia's maternal mortality rate has long ranked near the bottom in the U.S. The most recent analysis of maternal deaths in Georgia by the state's Maternal Mortality Review Committee deemed two-thirds of the maternal deaths from 2012-15 preventable.

Black women in Georgia are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women.

On the House floor, Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, House health and human services committee chair, thanked House members for “beginning to take care of the needs of our most vulnerable mothers who are at risk of losing their lives postpartum.”

Advocates said as the coronavirus pandemic impacts the ability for pregnant and postpartum women to access services, it is critical lawmakers prioritize the Medicaid extension legislation and funding.

“House Bill 1114 is a critical first step for ensuring that people giving birth in Georgia have access to care during the vulnerable postpartum period,” said Amber Mack, research and policy analyst at the Healthy Mothers, Health Babies Coalition of Georgia.

The pandemic has also added stressors to many families — on top of the more than 71,000 positive coronavirus cases, the state is seeing record-high unemployment.

Rep. Able “Mable” Thomas, D-Atlanta, has long advocated for lawmakers to address maternal mortality through legislation.

“The maternal mortality issue is one of the most important issues and budget priorities of the 2020 session,” Thomas said. “We must continue to fight for Black mothers who die three to four times more than white mothers at childbirth.”

But advocates hope the state can go further in the future to fund Medicaid coverage for new mothers up to a full year. Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, introduced legislation to fund an additional 12 months of coverage last session.

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