Even as state legislative sessions end, state campaigns to build power and push for Medicaid expansion are only ramping up. The American Rescue Plan made significant investments in Medicaid, providing incredible financial incentives for non-expansion states to close the Medicaid coverage gap and move our country forward on a path toward health justice, and state advocates are doing incredible work to use the new federal funding to push for expansion. As momentum toward expansion grows, opponents lodge bad-faith arguments targeting the reproductive rights of individuals. In reality, this rhetoric is a distraction from the fact that Medicaid expansion actually saves lives and improves the health of infants, pregnant people and people who give birth.

Medicaid covers nearly half of all births in the United States. The Medicaid program allows low-income parents and their newborns to access critical prenatal and postnatal care. Numerous studies have shown that expansion significantly increased access to and utilization of health care for pregnant people and birthing people. Everyone deserves a healthy pregnancy from start to finish, and through Medicaid expansion, we are one step closer to getting there. The infants of parents who received prenatal care are less likely to have a low birth weight and are more likely to lead healthier lives. For states that expanded Medicaid, this led to greater reductions in low birthweight and pre-term birth in Black babies and fewer Black women dying during childbirth. It’s simple: when people have access to and utilize health care, their health improves.

At a time when maternal mortality is increasing in the U.S., particularly for Black women, due to structural racism and barriers to care, Medicaid expansion provides a glimmer of hope, which researchers say contributes to a “decrease in the maternal mortality ratio in the United States.” Improving the health of pregnant people is an urgent issue that will save lives, and expanding Medicaid is one way to do this.

Advocates, parents and researchers have been demonstrating this urgency for years. This 2018 Community Catalyst blog post written by an advocate shows how Medicaid is saving the day for children and families all over the U.S. As shown in a KFF literature review, which Community Catalyst’s policy analyst Rachel Rosales outlined in a recent blog post, there are over 30 recent research studies that find that Medicaid expansion has positive impacts on sexual and reproductive health.

With over 4 million people in 12 states living in the Medicaid coverage gap, 60 percent of whom are people of color, due to systemic racism and barriers of care, Medicaid expansion is a necessary step to take to improve the lives of infants and their parents and move us forward on a path to health equity. Infants and pregnant people have already seen these impacts in the 37 states, plus D.C., that already expanded Medicaid. It’s time to see parents and children thrive in the remaining 12 states. Policymakers need to listen to advocates and researchers and take action to expand Medicaid.