For the best start, babies need their moms to be healthy

The twelve-month postpartum insurance coverage extension for moms who give birth while on the Pregnant Women Medicaid Program (HB0004) up for consideration in the Wyoming Legislature can help ensure new moms and their babies are healthy.

A baby’s health is strongly linked to that of her mother’s — especially during the first year of life when critical brain development is happening. Access to continuous postpartum health insurance for moms is essential to keep them healthy. Right now, moms and babies can’t count on that.

Maternal postpartum health risks include stroke, heart disease, blood loss and death. One in ten deaths occurred between six weeks and one year postpartum, according to the 2022 Wyoming Counts Kids Data Book. Maternal depression and anxiety can occur up to a year after pregnancy ends; it is the most common complication of pregnancy. Often these complications could have been prevented with basic postpartum care. Ensuring mothers’ access to postpartum care results in better health outcomes for mothers and babies.

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Historically, moms who gave birth under the Pregnant Women Medicaid program had health insurance while they were pregnant and for 60 days after the birth of their child. The American Rescue Plan Act gives Wyoming a unique opportunity to use a simple and cost-effective way to modify the Medicaid state plan to extend from 60 days to 12 months of health insurance coverage postpartum. This opportunity is time-limited. The Legislature must act soon.

Eighteen percent of all women who give birth in Wyoming lose their health insurance three months after their babies are born according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Moms on Medicaid are more likely to have chronic health issues, give birth pre-term, and give birth to a baby with low birth weight. These moms need continuous access to postpartum healthcare.

Pregnant Women Medicaid covers those who earn less than 154% of the federal poverty level. The reason one in five new moms lose insurance is that options for affordable health insurance besides Medicaid are limited. First, a third of mothers who give birth in Wyoming are unmarried and thus don’t have access to a partner’s insurance plan. Second, low-paying jobs in industries such as retail, food service, and day care usually don’t include health benefits.

A third option, Medicaid for low-income (nonpregnant) Wyoming residents, is only offered to the very lowest-income parents and/or caregivers who earn approximately 50% of the FPL (~ $9,000 annually) or who qualify through a different assistance program , like the Supplemental Security Income or Developmental Disabilities Waiver programs.

While moms whose 60-day postpartum coverage is expiring may apply for the Pregnant by Choice Medicaid program, this program does not offer comprehensive medical insurance — only contraception and reproductive services. this is a start. But moms need comprehensive care to get healthy — and stay healthy — postpartum so they can return to work and provide for their child.

The Self-Sufficiency Calculator for Wyoming 2020, available from the Wyoming Women’s Foundation (, tells us that women earning less than 154% of the federal poverty level — $28,197 for a family of two (mom and baby) — do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. $40,044 is the estimated cost for a mom and her infant to cover just their basic needs in Natrona County.

For women who already have to choose between regular meals and stable housing, buying health insurance and seeking medical care becomes a luxury they can’t afford. Without regular medical care, their resulting poor health inhibits their ability to work, contribute to the economy and provide for their children.

Recent research from the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown tells us that ensuring continuous insurance coverage for the first year after a woman gives birth is one of the most important ways to improve maternal and child health indicators — including the infant mortality rate.

What’s more, untreated postpartum health issues not only endanger the health of babies and their mothers, they can also delay mothers’ return to work. Their ability to provide financially for their children is jeopardized. Poor health of Wyoming women and babies hurts more than individual women; it hurts families and communities across Wyoming.

Let’s ensure all new mothers in Wyoming have access to the healthcare they and their babies need and deserve. Investing in policies like HB004 that facilitate women’s ability to work towards greater economic self-sufficiency benefits for us all.

Rebekah Hazelton is the director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, and Marissa Carpio is the policy associate at the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. WYWF’s mission is to invest in the attainment of economic self-sufficiency for women and opportunities for girls.