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Facing high mortality rates, NJ expands maternity care

New Jersey took a big step toward ensuring postpartum parents and their newborn children have access to adequate medical care in the state. Now, Medicaid is available for one year after birth for postpartum mothers, a move that’ll help more than 8,000 residents.

New Jersey is only the second state in the country, and first in the region, to offer such expansive care, and it will go a long way to lessen the gap of postpartum care among racial groups.

“Becoming a parent is among life’s greatest milestones, but sadly paired with significant challenges for many in low-income communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, in the announcement of the expansion. “Expanding postpartum coverage will not only improve health outcomes among families of color—it will save lives.”

Earlier this year, First Lady Tammy Murphy announced a comprehensive plan to improve maternal care in the state with the goal of halving maternal mortality rates in five years, while eliminating racial disparities in birth outcomes. (NJ has a maternal mortality rate of 38.1, the fourth highest in the country, and the U.S. has the highest rate of any developed country.) Expanding Medicaid coverage was shown to have a profound impact on achieving those goals. 

“Any mother could tell you that access to health care for a year after delivery is a commonsense, necessary and moral imperative for any state that values healthy families,” Murphy said in a statement announcing the expansion.

The move aligns with a federal movement toward expanding maternal care outlined in the American Rescue Plan. Starting in April next year, states will have the option to expand Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full 12 months. 

The need is dire. According to the state, Medicaid covers almost 20% of women in reproductive age nationally and makes pregnancy care accessible to more than 40% of people giving birth. One-third of maternal deaths occur within the first year of giving birth, and the mortality rate is seven times higher for black women in New Jersey.  

The extended care, critically at little to no cost to those involved, can help new mothers manage a host of chronic conditions while also offering behavioral and mental health care. 

“Today marks an important step forward in our efforts to improve maternal care throughout New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson in a statement. “Pregnancy’s impact on a person’s health doesn’t always end once their baby is brought into the world. From mental health issues to chronic pain, new parents often need follow-up care from trained healthcare professionals to achieve a full recovery.”

And the positive effects extend far into the future. 

In calling for even further Medicaid expansion, Brittany Holom-Trundy, NJ Policy Perspective senior policy analyst, said: “Building a strong economy that works for everyone starts with providing new parents and their children the support they need. … This is one of the single best investments we can make to improve long-term health outcomes and set children up for success later in life.”