The American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11th is more than an opportunity for people to go out and buy a new television or put a down payment on a car. It is an opportunity for low income people, especially low income women on Medicaid, to have access to affordable, quality health care and postpartum coverage. This plan will literally save lives, something our Republican senators apparently do not believe in doing, since zero Republican senators voted for this bill. They seem to be too shocked by the $1.9 trillion price tag to make a decision to choose to save the lives of women. But when we benefit women, we benefit everyone, and the American Rescue Plan — or what news outlets are dubbing the COVID-19 relief bill — is one for all Americans.
The Biden Administration’s win here is a win especially for low-income women on Medicaid. The plan says, “Importantly, to address our nation’s maternal mortality crisis, the Act takes a monumental step forward by allowing states to extend continuous, comprehensive postpartum coverage for Medicaid and CHIP to 12 months after the end of pregnancy,” according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
That means that women who qualify for Medicaid due to pregnancy won’t automatically be kicked off after giving birth. Previously, Medicaid coverage was only guaranteed 60 days after giving birth; now, coverage will last for the first year of life, which is a vulnerable time for both moms and babies. This is a game changer.
The plan will extend Medicaid coverage to women who need it the most. It will help save the lives of these women — and their babies. In the United States, Medicaid is the largest insurer of prenatal and postpartum care. On the government’s Medicaid website, there is an interesting graph which breaks down, state by state, what percentage of residents receive Medicaid, Medicare and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and who is eligible to be insured for both prenatal and postpartum care. This bill is a game changer.
Millions of people go without health insurance every year, especially people of color. The Affordable Care Act, one of President Barack Obama’s achievements during his presidency, provided insurance for those who had previously gone without, ultimately helping to improve the maternal outcomes for women. Biden’s law is an extension of the ACA, and a plan that will undoubtedly help many families.
It’s been no secret that Black women especially, and our babies, have long struggled to survive. This is an all too common story when we talk about maternal health, not only for low-income women, but Black women who fall above the low income level, like Dr. Shalon Irving who died in 2017 after giving birth to her daughter Soleil at 37 weeks. Dr. Irving’s death came after she had a postpartum follow-up with her doctor and many appointments where she reported that something just was not right with her recovery — which her doctors ignored. She died at the age of 36.
A provision in the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid coverage to individuals living in poverty, however, left it up to the states to Medicaid expand coverage. In the states which expanded coverage, infant mortality rates fell. In the states that did not expand coverage, a 2018 study showed that infant mortality grew.
In addition, says an article by the Center for American Progress, “[I]n states that did expand Medicaid, infant mortality for African American infants fell by more than twice the rate that it did in non-Medicaid expansion states. The authors of the study suggest that increased access to health care services and contraception may have been factors in the decrease in infant mortality in Medicaid expansion states, allowing women to both access services before and after their pregnancy as well as better plan their pregnancies. Another study found that the ACA provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26 was associated with increased early prenatal care, more adequate prenatal care, and a lower rate of preterm birth.”
We are living in a time when the anthem for Black Lives Matter reverberates through communities of color, seeping into communities across the country, including white communities, giving rise to a new understanding. We must know that no one bill or one call to action or some one-sided vote can fix the problem we have in this country, but the American Rescue Plan is an attempt to put us all on equal footing and give some of us a second chance at life.