Texas lawmakers voted last session to expand Medicaid coverage from two to six months postpartum. While advocates say that was a good move for both health and mental health reasons, they are urging the state to extend that insurance coverage for up to a full year after birth.
Angela Ott is a policy fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. She says mental health challenges are very common after childbirth.
“We also want to acknowledge that after six months, you know, after this Medicaid coverage ends, new mothers just don’t stop experiencing mental health and substance use issues,” Ott said.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What are the reasons a person who has just had a baby needs extra care and attention?
Angela Ott: We find that postpartum depression and anxiety are actually two of the most common side effects of pregnancy. And, you know, this six months postpartum coverage is a great step from the Texas legislature, but 12 months of full Medicaid coverage will provide this preventative care in that very vulnerable year after childbirth.
Why is a full year necessary?
New mothers don’t just stop experiencing mental health and substance use issues when six months is up. You know, in fact, we find that substance use disorders are one of the leading causes of maternal death in the first year postpartum. So we need that access to behavioral health services in order to protect the new mother’s health and safety.
Do you think we talk enough about mental health and postpartum depression?
A lot of people don’t realize that postpartum depression and anxiety are two of the most common side effects of pregnancy. And we also want to acknowledge that after six months after this Medicaid coverage ends, new mothers just don’t stop experiencing mental health and substance use issues. And we want to acknowledge that substance use disorder can be one of the leading causes of maternal death in the first year postpartum. So new mothers desperately need that coverage for up to 12 months.
What’s the Healthy Texas Women Program and why do you think it’s not enough?
We know that the Healthy Texas Women Program can provide some great coverage for physical health. And it is one coverage option for new moms. But we do know that full coverage for one year through Medicaid is really what we need for medically necessary behavioral health services. One issue we find with Healthy Texas Women, and particularly Healthy Texas Women Plus, is it covers a limited number of behavioral health services, but there are not enough mental health providers in-network, and that is the main issue that we see.
Is this a bureaucratic problem? Does it come from the number of health care providers who are actually available or who are in business?
I think what we’re seeing is that more providers are willing to take Medicaid than healthy Texas Women Plus.
Do you think there’s an appetite among lawmakers to expand Medicaid again given that there has been an expansion recently?
That’s a great question. I can’t necessarily speak for the lawmakers. I can speak for the stakeholders that are really pushing for this. And, you know, we’re really hoping that this policy of the 12 months of full Medicaid can capture attention in the next session. But again, I can’t necessarily speak for the lawmakers themselves.
I think that coverage for new mothers is a nonpartisan issue. I think that it is something that a lot of people can get behind. I’m hopeful the attention will be on the need for 12 months of full Medicaid coverage in the next session.