August 20, 2010 — The Nebraska Appleseed Center on Thursday sued the state government for eliminating prenatal care services to more than 1,500 low-income pregnant women, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, the AP/Albany Times-Union reports. The lawsuit argues that the state acted outside of its authority. The plaintiffs would like the Lancaster County District Court to issue a temporary restraining order to restore eligibility for the services to the women (Jenkins, AP/Albany Times-Union, 8/19).
Nebraska previously provided prenatal care to low-income pregnant women through Medicaid, regardless of immigration status, under the rationale that their children would be natural-born U.S. citizens and therefore eligible for Medicaid. However, last spring, the federal government informed Nebraska that it must cease providing such care to undocumented immigrants through Medicaid because doing so violates federal rules. The federal government allows documented immigrants to receive prenatal care through Medicaid, but undocumented immigrants are barred from the program.
After the order, Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and other state officials said that undocumented immigrants should not be entitled to state funds and that the prenatal services should not be restored. They opposed legislation that would have created a separate, state-funded program for low-income women to receive prenatal care regardless of immigration status, as well as a compromise effort that would have restored coverage for the women who lost it for the remainder of their pregnancies (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/25). More than 800 undocumented immigrants lost the services, in addition to 700 legal residents (AP/Albany Times-Union, 8/19).
The suit argues that the state is required to provide prenatal services under its Children's Health Insurance Program. Becky Gould, executive director of the Nebraska Appleseed Center, said the organization fears that low-income women without prenatal care will face higher-risk deliveries and greater chances of birth defects. Gould said that some public health clinics and hospitals in the Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha areas have expanded their services to provide care for low-income pregnant women. However, "once you get out of those areas, there really isn't any access to this kind of health care," she added.
A spokesperson for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the agency has not yet reviewed the suit. Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) declined to comment (Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, 8/19).