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Senate Health committee advances bills expanding insurance, Medicaid coverage

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Delaware's Senate Health and Human Services committee voted to release bills that would expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers and require insurers to cover an annual mental health checkup for all insured Delawareans on Wednesday.

The former bill is part of the so-called “mom-nibus”package of legislation covering maternal health, spanning insurance coverage to restrictions on how corrections officers can use restraints on pregnant people in custody.

A pandemic-related federal public health emergency declaration already extended Medicaid coverage for pregnant women from 60 days postpartum to a full year; This bill would make that permanent. Its Senate sponsor, State Senator Marie Pinkney (D-New Castle), says women – and particularly Black women – face an elevated risk of serious health problems months post-pregnancy and this Medicaid expansion could save lives.

Dr. Nick Beard of the Delaware Coalition against Domestic Violence says the law could also offer a lifeline to women experiencing abuse – a risk she says is particularly high during and immediately after pregnancy. “

The worst possible thing that can happen to someone experiencing domestic violence is isolation," she said, "and I suspect that there are many women who have given birth and because they don’t have access to a doctor, they don’t have anyone they can trust and confide in.”

Another maternal healthcare bill expanding the list of medical professionals permitted to provide abortions and offering protections against civil suits to abortion seekers and providers passed on the House floor on Tuesday.

The bill requiring insurance providers to cover annual mental health checkups is part of a suite of mental health care legislation with broad bipartisan backing.

Senate Sponsor, State Senator Nicole Poore (D-New Castle) says expanding access to mental health care is important after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with psychiatric-related emergency room visits rising dramatically, particularly among adolescent girls. Poore says this is the opportunity to make mental health care a priority.

“You know how we can go one year to the next to our primary care physician for a physical exam and it doesn’t cost you anything?" she said. "This bill would create the same visit, but specifically to care for your mental health.”

A separate bill making its way through House committees would scale back the reporting requirements for physicians seeking treatment for depression and other treatable mental illnesses. Advocates say that discourages physicians from seeking help despite high burnout and suicide rates. Because of low attendance, the House committee did not to release that bill.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.