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Texas' abortion ban adds pressure to already strained Medicaid system

Gabby Rodriguez

Experts and advocacy groups are warning the state's Medicaid program may be unable to bear the burden of more low-income Texans getting pregnant now that abortion is no longer an option in the state.

As is, Medicaid is difficult to qualify for. It’s available only to people who are disabled, 65 or older, pregnant or fall well below the poverty line — around $13,590.

Half of Texas women aged 18 to 44 who make less than $20,000 a year don’t have health insurance right now, according to the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center. The organization works with state governments like the Texas Legislature to provide research to back up their policymaking.

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Cynthia Osborne, who leads the center, said it’s critical for women without health insurance to get on Medicaid if they become pregnant. Even after they qualify, she said, it could take months for coverage to kick in, possibly putting the fetus at risk.

“It will delay her prenatal care to the point that it could have negative outcomes for the health of the developing fetus,” she said.

Stacey Pogue, a policy analyst with EveryTexan, is working to improve the Medicaid system here. She said her goal is to get everyone in the state "a basic standard of health care.”

Texas passed a law last year extending postpartum care for people on Medicaid from two months to six months. The state's Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee had called for a full year of coverage.

Even with the extension, there’s still a delay in receiving care due to labor issues.

“We’re so short-staffed on eligible workers in Texas,” Pogue said. “No one thinks a two-month delay in getting into prenatal care is ideal or even acceptable, right? But the system to get people benefits that they are eligible for, that they have applied for, is so backlogged today that that's a problem.”

Some lawmakers see the need to increase support for women who become pregnant outside of Medicaid.

“I think at the very least we can show support for the women and at least provide maternity leave of at least four weeks for the one having the baby and a couple of weeks for the spouse as well,” state Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said at the Texas Tribune Festival last month.

Nichols said he would carry a maternity leave bill in the next legislative session, which starts Jan. 10. But despite being the longest serving Republican in the Senate, there's no guarantee he will get the support he needs to pass it.

Osborne doesn’t expect much to happen.

“I'm not sure that there's going to be a lot of progress this session,” she said.

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Haya Panjwani