(The Center Square) – The Georgia Senate has passed a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers.

Under Senate bill 338, new mothers would receive Medicaid coverage for a year after the birth. The state’s current policy provides for health insurance for up to six months.

The Senate unanimously approved SB 338, 54-0 Monday. Supporters of the bill said expanding the program was needed to address maternal health issues.

Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, a longtime member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said the legislation is “a huge leap forward.”

“A lot of people – who aren’t that close to the public health issues – don’t even know how many women die during this postpartum period,” Orrock said. “There are certain heart malfunctions that can occur and kill a woman before you know it.”

The State Committee on the Review of Maternal Mortality recommended the extension. The group of medical professionals has been reviewing every maternal death case for eight years to find ways to reduce future deaths.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate in Georgia is 34 deaths per 100,000. The national maternal mortality rate is 20.1 per 100,000, data shows. If the bill becomes law, it would be the second expansion of maternal Medicaid coverage.

Pregnant women who earn less than 220% of the federal poverty line — or less than $37,928 a year for a family of two — could receive Medicaid for up to 60 days after childbirth or a miscarriage before the federal government approves extending the state waiver to six months in April. Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation into law in 2020 making the original extension bill.

The American Rescue Plan Act gives states the option to extend Medicaid health coverage to one year after childbirth. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 15 states have passed legislation to expand Medicaid coverage after childbirth.

If the bill becomes law, state health officials would have to submit an amendment or waiver to the Medicaid plan to the US Department of Health and Human Services for approval. This new option will be effective April 1 and will be available to states for five years under current federal guidelines.

Kemp is expected to sign the bill, which must first be approved by the House of Representatives. The governor has earmarked more than $28 million for the extension in his spending proposal over the next two years. Medicaid is partially funded with federal dollars.