(Jefferson City) -- Missouri's record in insuring women of childbearing age is worse than the national average, according to a new report.
Researchers found that 13.9% of Missouri women ages 18 to 44 are uninsured, compared with a nationwide average of 12.3%.
Executive Director Joan Alker at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, blames Republican hard-liners in the state legislature for blocking any expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
"The more pragmatic elements of the party want to do it; they understand the budget value of having these folks covered and bringing in the federal dollars," Alker explained. "But there remains really sharp ideological resistance, I think, to embracing the Affordable Care Act. So, this is going to continue to be a live issue going forward."
The report showed states that expanded Medicaid have seen a 50% greater reduction in infant mortality and fewer women dying in childbirth, compared with non-expansion states such as Missouri.
Right now, Missouri adults can only get Medicaid if they are basically destitute, with a monthly income of less than $373 for a family of three. The program does cover expectant mothers once the pregnancy is confirmed by a doctor - but that coverage ends 60 days after the child is born.
Pediatrician Dr. Ken Haller, who serves on the board of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that causes major disruptions in care, which hurts children and mothers alike.
"If their health isn't being attended to, they can't be as good a parent to their child as they would like," said Haller. "And we all need for those children to grow up in a healthy, happy way."
Kendra Copanas, executive director of the nonprofit Generate Health/a>, said the report shows the major racial disparity in birth outcomes for African-Americans in St. Louis.
"Black infant mortality is at three-and-a-half times the rate of white infants," she stressed, "and that gap is bigger than it was 10 and 50 years ago."
About a year ago, the Missouri Legislature voted to extend Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum for women with substance-use disorders only. However, the state has not yet implemented the policy.
The Georgetown report was released in conjunction with the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.