The Bulletin

Virginia will expand Medicaid coverage up to a year after pregnancy

By: - November 18, 2021 5:18 pm

Tiffany Casby cradles her newborn son Zayne, shortly after birthing him at Embrace Midwifery & Birth Center in Richmond in 2017. (Photo by Cheyenne Varner).

Virginia will join only a handful of states in expanding Medicaid coverage to members for a year after pregnancy, officials announced Thursday. 

The extended services will start next year, but the move to augment postpartum care has been a priority for the state since 2020, when legislators passed budget language directing the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services to initiate the change. While the agency is responsible for administering the state’s Medicaid program, the move required approval from the federal government, which authorized expansion funds through the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. 

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra announced the policy change at a panel in Richmond focused on maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. Like other states, Virginia has struggled to manage rising rates of maternal mortality, which are disproportionately higher for Black individuals.

Statewide, they’re more than twice as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause, according to the most recently available data from the Virginia Department of Health.

“We’re allowing women to come to us in conditions we would never want to otherwise see,” Becerra said during the panel. Expanding Medicaid coverage has become a critical focus as public health experts work to reduce those disparities. While low-income pregnant women are typically eligible for the program, coverage for some members ends within 60 days after giving birth. That can mean losing access to critical care at a particularly vulnerable time.

In 2019, the Virginia Maternal Mortality Review Team found that nearly 70 percent of women who died from a pregnancy-related cause had at least one chronic condition. Almost half of them had government-provided insurance that only lasted six months after pregnancy, and more than 60 percent of those deaths happened between a month and a half to a year after giving birth.

The Medicaid expansion will cover regular check-ups, behavioral health visits and specialty care for members up to a year after giving birth, according to DMAS. The hope is that extending access to those services will help more people access preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions, reducing rates of preventable deaths.

“It is really hard to think of another topic that’s so personal to so many people,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who joined Becerra at the panel. “I hope this brings a sigh of relief to women across the state.”

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Kate Masters
Kate Masters

Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md. She was named Virginia's outstanding young journalist for 2021 by the Virginia Press Association.