AUSTIN, Texas — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is trying to expand access to healthcare across Texas. Members of the House, led by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, laid out a package of a dozen bills Wednesday that will take priority.
“The goal of this legislative package is to make healthcare more affordable, more accessible, and to save lives through better health outcomes,” Phelan said at a news conference at the State Capitol.
The package includes bills expanding telehealth and increasing broadband access to help with that, streamlining the eligibility process for children to access Medicaid, and allowing home care and hospice agencies to administer vaccines in Texas. One of those bills aims to address maternal mortality.
El Paso resident, Tammy Greenmanwho, said giving birth to her son was the best thing that's ever happened to her.
“Just having him all the time gives me happiness, just by holding him and seeing him smile," Greenman said.
While her two-month-old son, Chris, gives her all the reason to smile, it has been a tough year for the first-time mother. On top of postpartum recovery, she lost her sales job due to the pandemic.
“No one really mentioned that it's tough at some points. You see in movies, and it's just perfect. But no, it does have a lot of tough times,” Greenman said.
The 26-year-old receives postpartum care under Medicaid, but it only lasts 60 days after giving birth. For now, she said there is an extension due to the public health crisis.
“I don't think that 60 days is enough, because my body is still recovering, and I still do have doctor visits,” Greenman said.
House Bill 133 would extend Medicaid eligibility for new mothers from six months after delivery or an involuntary miscarriage to 12 months.
“Childbirth, while a wonderful and almost magical milestone in a woman's life can lead to postpartum depression. It can lead to medical crisis, premature death and including suicide,” said the bill's author Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas. "While access to medical resources and counseling can save the lives of mothers. The safety net for those needing assistance disappears 60 days after delivery, despite the medical proof that their lives remain in danger for a year or more after birth."
According to last year’s report by the Texas maternal mortality and morbidity review committee, in 2013, 89% of the deaths were preventable and 31% occurred 43 days to 1 year after the end of pregnancy.
Maternal mental health conditions, which include anxiety and depression, affect more than one in eight pregnant and postpartum women, according to a new report this month by researchers at Mathematica.
Meaghan Read, the director of public policy of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas, supports the bill and said mental health has been a huge priority during the public health crisis. She believes legislators must take a look at preventative and intervention strategies.
“If we're wanting to create economic stability, get healthy women to work and to also provide futures for our children and future generations, we have to pass bills like these to eliminate emergency situations, and save dollars so that people can get back to the community and give back to their families," Read said.
For Greenman and many Texas moms, postpartum care begins and ends with Medicaid.
“It's sometimes the only help that a lot of women have that they depend on," she said.
The House Human Services Committee passed House Bill 133. There is no word yet on when it will reach out the House floor. A version of the bill passed in the full House last legislative session. When asked what are the barriers to getting these priority bills to the finish line, Phelan said "All we can focus on is the House."