It’s no April Fools’ joke.

On Friday, March 31, the NC Department of Health and Human Services announced that, for NC Medicaid beneficiaries, starting April 1, the care offered after childbirth will be extended to 12 months.  Until now, the postpartum coverage period lasted for 60 days.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knew how generous state and local governments were – and this is one more item in a very long list of economic, medical and social benefits that have been implemented or enhanced since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina in March of 2020.

Medicaid will provide the year of continuous postpartum coverage to eligible women who are currently pregnant or who gave birth between February 1, 2022, and March 31, 2022.

The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 gave states the choice to increase postpartum coverage to 12 months. That extension was included in North Carolina’s budget that passed in November of last year.

The option for the extension of postpartum coverage will be available to North Carolina and other states for a total of five years.

In a press release announcing the extension of benefits, Deputy Secretary for NC Medicaid Dave Richard stated that this should help newborns thrive and he added that the program will be expanded even more.

“This extended coverage is an important component to help improve the health of families in our state,” he said. “I hope we can build on this important step by expanding Medicaid in North Carolina to further support maternal health and reduce infant mortality by improving health before the pregnancy.”

The news will no doubt be welcome by Guilford County commissioners and health officials who in recent years have been highly focused on the health of newborns in the state and who are also working to bring down the disparate numbers of newborn deaths among minorities and low-income households.

This has been a major area of concern at the state level as well. North Carolina currently ranks 30th in the country in maternal mortality and 39th in infant mortality. In addition, 12 percent of women in the state experience postpartum depression.

Beneficiaries of the expanded offering will be eligible to receive 12 months of ongoing postpartum health care coverage beginning on the date their pregnancy ends through  “the last day of the month 12-months after the last date of the pregnancy.”

The beneficiaries will remain eligible for ongoing postpartum health care coverage even if certain conditions change that might otherwise have affected eligibility — for instance, if there’s an increase in income or a financial windfall.

According to the March 31 press release, most pregnant and postpartum beneficiaries will have access to full Medicaid benefits. This may include services like doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, dental, vision and hearing – as well as behavioral health care and substance abuse treatment services.

Beneficiaries will automatically receive extended postpartum coverage if they are enrolled in the Medicaid for Pregnant Women program. All eligible beneficiaries will receive a letter notifying them of the change.  In order to receive the extended postpartum benefits, all eligible Medicaid beneficiaries must report when they are pregnant and the last date they were pregnant to their local Department of Social Services.

The extended coverage applies to all categories of beneficiaries in all NC Medicaid programs.