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Testifiers support prenatal care bill

March 17, 2011

Vivianne Chaumont, director of division of medicaid and long term care, testifies in disfavor of LB599 to the Health and Human Services committee on Mar. 16, 2011 at the Nebraska capitol.

Story by Rachel Albin photo by Kyle Bruggeman

A landslide of supporters testified Wednesday for a new law to restore prenatal care to mothers who do not qualify for Medicaid, including undocumented immigrants.

“The baby doesn’t know what country he’s in or she’s in, but we do and we are good people,” said Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard, praising the bill’s introduction.

LB599, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, would reinstate prenatal care the state cut off in March 2010 after realizing that unborn children are ineligible for Medicaid. For decades Nebraska had provided coverage for those unborn children and their low-income mothers.

A similar bill, which Gov. Dave Heineman had threatened to veto, failed in the Legislature last year.

On Wednesday, after hearing 15 of 16 people testify in favor, Campbell said the Legislature’s Health and Humans Services Committee likely will hold the bill until next session while the committee looks for funding sources.

“The point is to be sustainable,” said Campbell, the committee chair. “We can’t find one-time money some place,” she said, adding that she would like to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to find those funds.

Additionally, the potential year-long hold on the bill would give health care providers more time to gather data and patient stories like those heard at Wednesday’s hearing.

For two hours, one person after another spoke in support of the bill, while one testified against it. Those in favor included religious leaders seeking a Christian approach to policy, pro-lifers defending the babies and health care providers who have seen how taking away prenatal care has impacted low-income pregnancies.

Before testifying, the Rev. Howard Dotson of Omaha’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, asked for a moment of silence to remember babies he said were lost due to a lack of prenatal health care.

“We need to be pro-life from cradle to grave, to err on the side of compassion and stay grounded in family values,” he said.

Dr. Caron Gray, the Creighton professor and obstetrician-gynecologist, told of a pregnant, undocumented woman who lost her prenatal care and stopped seeing her doctor. Consequently, she said, the woman developed high blood pressure that threatened both her life and her baby’s.

“The baby is a U.S. citizen,” Gray said. “We are putting U.S. citizens at risk with not passing this bill.”

Justin Vossen, a March of Dimes board member, has a daughter in kindergarten who was born prematurely and spent two and a half years on oxygen. She also has had heart and eye surgery.

“The effects of not providing the prenatal care will end up costing potentially the state more in the long run,” Vossen said. And if they’re born too prematurely, he added, the cost can run in the millions.

But Vivianne Chaumont, representing the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, had a different take.

Chaumont, the only testifier against the bill, said undocumented immigrants are ineligible for Medicaid funds, except in emergencies, such as labor and delivery.

“We shouldn’t be spending any money for people who are here illegally,” Chaumont said. “That’s our position.”

-Also contributing to this report were Gabriel Medina, Courtney Pitts and Asha Anchan

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