Illinois Gets OK for First-in-Nation Extension of Medicaid for Postpartum Mothers

Illinois received the green light on Monday for a first-in-the-nation waiver to extend its Medicaid program to low-income people up to one year after they give birth.

[READ: Arkansas’ Medicaid Overhaul]

“That’s a big deal,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Monday during a press conference. “The postpartum period is an important part of maternity care, and it is a time when mothers may be dealing with a host of medical conditions.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of pregnancy-related deaths occur in the first year after giving birth. Maternal health advocates have long urged the extension of Medicaid as a way to combat strikingly high maternal death rates in the U.S. as Medicaid covers more than 40% of all births in the U.S.

A CDC report released earlier this month found that maternal death rates rose in 2019, just ahead of the pandemic. Black women face the highest rates of maternal health, dying at 2.5 times the rate of white women. Monday’s announcement comes right at the start of Black Maternal Health Week, which is devoted to working on policy solutions toward improving maternal health.

The approval means low-income women in Illinois with incomes up to 208% of the federal poverty line can stay on Medicaid up to one year after they give birth, with full coverage. Illinois is the first state to receive federal funding to extend coverage; by law, low-income women who become eligible for Medicaid while pregnant lose their coverage 60 days after giving birth.

The coverage begins immediately and will run through Dec. 31, 2025.

Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly applauded the approval on Monday, calling the recent CDC report on maternal death rates disheartening. She said the waiver approval is a hopeful sign.

“Despite all of our hard work, we still have a long way to go and preventing maternal deaths. This is an issue that reaches into communities across our nation, but it’s especially concerning to communities of color. So today’s announcement is a wonderful way to kick off Black Maternal Health Week,” she said at Monday’s press conference.

[OPINION: States Offer Health Care Solution]

The approval comes as, noted by both Becerra and Kelly, the most recent COVID-19 relief bill includes a provision providing states an easier option to extending Medicaid coverage postpartum. That provision, which was originally in a bill introduced by Kelly that passed the House but never made it to the Senate floor last year, allows states to use a state plan option to extend Medicaid coverage as opposed to asking for approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid via a waiver.

Some states have already taken the first steps toward doing so, including in West Virginia where state legislators on April 10 passed legislation to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income women up to one year after giving birth. A spokesperson for Republican Gov. Jim Justice says if the bill is passed, the state’s health department will opt into using the state plan option indicated in the American Rescue Plan.

Meanwhile, several other states, including New Jersey and Missouri, have pending waivers similar to Illinois’ to extend coverage.

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