The Rhode Island Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers until 12 months after delivery of a baby.

Under current law, pregnant people in Rhode Island are eligible for Medicaid coverage if they make up to 250% of the federal poverty level. But many lose that coverage just 60 days after giving birth, if their income is above 141% of the federal poverty level.

Proponents of the bill, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence), say it’ll help the state address significant racial disparities in maternal health outcomes.

Nationally, Black people are over three times more likely than white people to die from pregnancy-related causes. And some serious complications, including postpartum depression, don’t always appear within 60 days of giving birth. A 2017 study of several U.S. states found over 20% of pregnancy-related deaths occurred between 6 weeks and one year of delivery.

“There are ways to treat maternal depression, but it has to be identified and then treated,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, the executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, which supports the bill. “When women lose coverage just 60 days postpartum, that is putting many of them in an uninsured status and they are losing contact with their medical providers just when they need it most.”

Rhode Island is among dozens of states considering similar legislation, after the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress this spring gave states the option to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to up to one year after birth. States have a financial incentive to make the change because they will continue to receive federal matching funds for pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage, said Burke Bryant.

“To have a cutoff at what is still a very low income for the mothers who lose coverage doesn't make financial sense,” she said. “If an undiagnosed condition escalates, it could require emergency room coverage, which is far more expensive than preventive doctor visits with your regular doctor.”

With the state Senate's approval, the bill will next head to the House, where Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence) is sponsoring similar legislation.

“No woman should be without health care mere weeks after giving birth, particularly lower income women who are more at greater risk for food or housing insecurity and other factors that can affect health,” said Sen. Goodwin in a statement. “There are federal funds available for making sure low-income mothers can stay covered for a full year, and taking advantage of those funds will ensure that moms and children get off to a healthy start.”

This story was updated Wednesday morning, following the Senate vote.

Antonia Ayres-Brown can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org