Federal officials have approved Georgia’s plan to extend Medicaid coverage for low-income new mothers in the state, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced on April 21.

The plan will lengthen the period for income-eligible mothers to receive Medicaid benefits from the current two months up to six months post-partum. Coverage is available for mothers with incomes up to 220% of the federal poverty level.

The extension follows passage last year by the General Assembly for state officials to request a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which has now granted approval.

Legislation allowing the state’s waiver request came from Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, and passed unanimously last June amid the coronavirus-interrupted legislative session. Kemp then signed the bill.

“We recognize that maternal deaths are a serious public health concern, and the approval of the Georgia Postpartum Extension waiver underscores Georgia’s commitment to continually enhance the level of care for new mothers in the Peach State,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday.

Cooper’s bill also extended Medicaid coverage to lactation specialists for mothers having trouble feeding their babies.

Extending coverage for low-income mothers with newborns stemmed from a House study committee on maternal mortality in 2019 that looked at 101 cases of pregnancy-related deaths in Georgia and found 60% could have been prevented with better health care.

“We view this as a significant steppingstone in helping to ensure that post-partum women throughout Georgia can continue receiving the best care possible,” state Department of Community Health Commissioner Frank Berry said in a statement.

State lawmakers this year also passed separate legislation brought by Cooper to create an easier path for low-income Georgia children to automatically start collecting Medicaid benefits if they are already eligible for food stamps.

Pending approval from the federal government, the automatic enrollment would allow an estimated 60,000 Medicaid-eligible children who receive food stamps to also join the joint state-federal health program, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future.

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