AUSTIN (KXAN) — With hundreds of mothers dying every year across the U.S. due to pregnancy-related complications, Texas lawmakers are looking at ways to improve health for women while they’re pregnant and after they give birth.
Lawmakers on the Texas House Committee on Public Health have already started looking into possible solutions as part of its interim charges last fall. KXAN spoke with Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, for this week’s edition of State of Texas, and although she’s no longer a member of that committee, she said it’s an important topic for lawmakers to consider moving forward.

Now, a member of the House Human Services Committee, Klick said it’s important to also study how many new mothers die after 42 days, which is the international standard for labeling a maternal death and the definition Texas uses. Members of the Texas’ Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force have started studying maternal deaths up to one year after a women gives birth.

“What we found in doing the individual case reviews is that there were a high number of women that actually died well beyond the 42-day period and that we needed to consider whether or not additional measures needed to be put into place,” said Klick, who is also a registered nurse.

She said a recent task force study also found some pregnant women, or new mothers, died of problems that weren’t directly related to their pregnancies.

“One of the other surprises in the task force work was the number of women that died due to opioid overdose,” Klick said. “You’re gonna see a lot of work done on in a variety of bills on that topic this session.

Klick says lawmakers will be faced with deciding whether to extend Medicaid coverage for pregnant women up to one year after they give birth. She said extended coverage, along with better prevention efforts, could reduce long-term costs associated with pregnancy complications.

“Medicaid does pay for a huge majority of births in the state,” she said. “… You have to be strategic in how you spend those dollars and doing some more preventive type services for that population can reduce costs.”

KXAN spoke with State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston last fall after the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force published its findings.

The task force found more than half of women who give birth in Texas are on Medicaid, and that between 2012 and 2015, about 56 percent of deaths occurred after 60 days, when Medicaid coverage for those women expires.

Farrar filed a bill this legislative session that would continue Medicaid coverage for eligible women up to one year after they deliver or experience an involuntary miscarriage.

She said extended coverage could result in better outcomes for babies and their mothers.

“If a women gets her diabetes under control during her pregnancy, it would just makes sense that we would keep that going long after she gives birth,” she said.

Rep Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, also filed a bill that would help provide certain mothers transportation to and from prenatal and postpartum care.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, she said House Bill 25 would direct the Texas Health and Human Services Commission “to create a Medicaid transportation pilot program for pregnant & new mothers.”