Story by Asha Anchan and Courtney Pitts, photo by Kyle Bruggeman
In the last day for hearings before the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Kathy Campbell introduced LB599, the Medical Assistance Act. The bill would provide prenatal care for mothers who are not covered by Medicaid. At the core of the debate is providing prenatal care to undocumented mothers and their babies.
Sen. Howard reads written testimony“The baby doesn’t know what country he’s in or she’s in, but we do and we are good people,” said Sen. Gwen Howard, after Campbell introduced the bill.
The testimonies that followed were highly concentrated with opinions from the proponents who presented 15 testimonies while the opponents gave just one.
The proponents included representatives of community health centers, religious leaders and pro-life groups. All of the testifiers had the same message: this is a pro-life issue. The lone opponent made the case that Medicaid dollars cannot be spent on undocumented immigrants unless it’s an emergency.
Last March, about 2,000 women were kicked off Medicaid-funded prenatal care after the state was notified by U.S. officials that it had erroneously been determining eligibility for Medicaid-funded prenatal care based on the unborn child. Federal rules mandate that eligibility be based on the mother. The state was informed the benefits could instead be covered by the State Children Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Last session, efforts from Campbell and other senators to pass a bill to require the state to provide prenatal care failed after Gov. Dave Heineman spoke out against giving tax-funded benefits to illegal immigrants and threatened to veto the legislation. Many legislators were split on whether providing the benefits was a pro-life issue or an illegal immigration issue.
In November, Campbell held a special hearing on the impact of not providing state-funded prenatal care. Testimony included reports from charity health care facilities detailing rising costs and more birth complications. After the hearing Campbell and other senators said prenatal care would be debated on the legislative floor in 2011.
After today’s hearing the Health and Human Services Committee, which Campbell chairs, will decide the fate of LB599. The committee could vote to postpone the bill indefinitely, vote to move it to the floor for debate or simply not vote.