Alaska Legislature

Alaska Senate advances postpartum Medicaid coverage extension

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate unanimously voted Wednesday to advance legislation that would extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers as a way to address Alaska’s rising maternal mortality rate.

The U.S. has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any developed country, and Alaska’s rates are higher still. Maternal mortality rates include deaths during pregnancy, in childbirth and 12 months after delivery. Rates are rising, both in Alaska and across the nation, according to the state Department of Health.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced Senate Bill 58 in February after previewing the proposal during his annual address to the Legislature in January. He proposed the measure as part of his plan to make Alaska the “most pro-life state in the entire country.”

“SB 58 will ensure expectant parents have access to care during pregnancy and for the first full year after giving birth, providing them and their babies the best possible start in life,” Dunleavy said on social media Wednesday.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, told a legislative committee in February that extending postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to one year would reduce gaps in health care coverage for eligible women. She said that would make a “big step” in reducing the state’s maternal mortality figures.

Zink said there are large racial, ethnic and geographic disparities in maternal mortality rates in Alaska. Rural parts of the state have seen a faster escalation of maternal deaths than urban Alaska, and minorities are overly represented in those statistics, she said.

The Department of Health recorded 10 pregnancy-associated deaths in 2012, which almost doubled by 2022. Zink said for every death related to pregnancy, there are 70 to 80 cases of “severe maternal illness” for new mothers in Alaska.


State officials said 51% of births in Alaska are covered by Medicaid. The Department of Health estimated that the postpartum Medicaid coverage extension would cost the state $2.6 million per year, and that it could benefit close to 1,600 women annually. If the Legislature approves the measure, the extended coverage would come into effect July 1 next year.

[Q&A: Thousands of Alaskans on Medicaid could lose coverage in the coming months due to eligibility reviews. Here’s what to know.]

Sen. Donny Olson, a Golovin Democrat, said Wednesday that extending Medicaid coverage was “one of the key pieces of legislation we’ll see this year.” Olson, who is a physician, said it was “critical health care coverage” for new mothers, and would particularly help in rural Alaska.

Congress approved the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, which temporarily allowed states to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage. A separate bill that made the change permanent passed earlier this year.

Thirty-one states, plus Washington, D.C., have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage. A slew of Republican-led states have made that change since Roe v. Wade was overturned, while also pushing to restrict abortion access. Mississippi was the latest state to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage, with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves saying that it was part of the state’s “new pro-life agenda.”

A House version of the same bill has advanced to the House Finance Committee, its last committee of referral before heading to the floor for a final vote. The regular legislative session must end by midnight of May 17.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at