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Expanding Medicaid-BadgerCare coverage for a year after pregnancy was proposed by Gov. Evers. Legislators cut that to a few extra days.

If you noticed a range of mental health outreach messages in May, it wasn’t by accident. National Mental Health Month featured public service announcements targeting veterans, farmers, and teenagers

The federal government in May also created a new maternal mental health hotline for new moms experiencing depression and anxiety. 

“Here in the state of Wisconsin, mental health and substance use conditions are the number one killer of our pregnant and postpartum moms,” said Dr. Christina Wichman, a Wisconsin-based professor of psychiatry and obstetrics-gynecology. “That’s the number one risk factor for maternal mortality in the state of Wisconsin—suicides and substance use. About 25% of our moms will struggle with some kind of psychiatric disorder or mental health symptoms or a substance use disorder.”

Having a hotline (833-943-5746 or 833-9-HELP4MOMS) solely dedicated to new moms may connect with women who otherwise might be apprehensive about calling more general mental health hotlines.

The Biden administration also announced additional federal funding for other state-based maternal health initiatives. But new moms in Wisconsin are still lacking some resources available in other states because of Republican legislators’ decade-long unwillingness to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage. 

Known in Wisconsin as BadgerCare, the Medicaid program provides health care coverage for lower-income individuals and families—including about 40% of all births in the US. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) enabled states to receive substantial federal funding to expand the number of families covered by Medicaid, but Wisconsin remains one of only nine states without the expanded coverage because Republicans—who have controlled the Legislature in the decade since the ACA was implemented—have steadfastly worked to thwart ACA coverage.

President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan went a step further and expanded the amount of time after a pregnancy (postpartum) that a woman could have medical care covered by Medicaid—to a full year from birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says the nation’s rate of maternal mortality is rising, and a growing body of evidence shows that many of these deaths, particularly from preventable causes such as overdose and suicide, occur after pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage ends 60 days past birth.

Gov. Tony Evers proposed the full year of expanded Medicaid coverage in his 2021 state budget bill, but legislative Republicans cut that to an extra 30 days, for a total coverage window of 90 days postpartum.

“We know that when moms are really struggling with mental health and substance use disorders, that it’s primarily outside of that six week postpartum range—and up until one year,” Wichman said. “The highest risk of maternal mortality is actually months eight through 12 postpartum. And we often times wonder how much of that could be eliminated or at least reduced if women continued to have access to mental health or substance use services for an entire year beyond postpartum.”

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