Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Thursday that would allow new mothers on Medicaid to obtain screening for postpartum depression.
The law is part of a larger effort to address the high maternal mortality rate that plagues Texas. Two other bills are also going through the state Legislature that attempt to address the issue.
A 2016 state report found 189 women—mostly black —died in Texas in 2011 and 2012 after childbirth, which a separate study determined is a higher number than any other state in the U.S.
Under the law, new mothers insured by Medicaid or with a newborn enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program can be screened for postpartum depression when they take their children for follow-up visits for up to 12 months. Texas is one of 19 states that opted not to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act and about 15% of Texans are uninsured.
More than 53% of the births in Texas in 2014 were covered by Medicaid and about 212,000 women will be eligible for the screenings under the new law, according to an analysis of the bill. The law is estimated to increase Medicaid spending by $2.2 million.
Public health organizations supported the bill, but they also cautioned that more steps should be taken to improve women's healthcare.
"This move to improve screening opportunities is absolutely critical," Adriana Kohler, senior health policy associate at Texans Care for Children, said in a statement. "There's much more work to do including working to ensure that women have access to counseling or other treatment once they are diagnosed."
Texas House members proposed a bill in February that would have allowed mothers on Medicaid or with babies enrolled in CHIP to receive both screening and treatment for postpartum depression. But the measure stalled in committee soon after an analysis showed it would cost the state $76 million over two years.
The state's Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity has found that mothers who die after childbirth had heart disease and high blood pressure and suffered from substance abuse and mental health disorders. The task force has recommended increased access to healthcare services after childbirth, especially for minority populations. It has also called for improved screening and referral of mothers to behavioral health services.
The other bills under consideration by the Texas Legislature include a House bill that would study maternal mortality among African-American women.