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Neb. Governor's Opposition Could Dim Chances for Prenatal Care Bill

Neb. Governor's Opposition Could Dim Chances for Prenatal Care Bill

March 17, 2010 — Nebraska state Sen. Kathy Campbell on Tuesday said that she is abandoning a compromise bill that would temporarily continue state-funded prenatal care to about 1,500 low-income women -- including undocumented immigrants -- because of opposition from Gov. Dave Heineman (R), the AP/Pennsylvania Times Herald reports. Campbell, a key lawmaker in the debate, said that legislators' support for the compromise largely depended on Heineman's stance. Heineman has opposed the effort because it would provide services to undocumented immigrants. Campbell said she would now move forward with her original plan to pass a permanent solution for continuing care to low-income pregnant women. Heineman also opposes that bill (LB 1110) (Jenkins, AP/Pennsylvania Times Herald, 3/17).

According to the Times Herald, for almost 30 years, Nebraska provided prenatal care to women through Medicaid regardless of immigration status because their children would be eligible for Medicaid; children born in the U.S. are citizens regardless of their parent's immigration status. Campbell introduced the original bill -- which would provide prenatal care to low-income women through the state's version of the Children's Health Insurance Program -- after the federal government informed Nebraska late last year 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/1).

The AP/Times Herald reports that most medical organizations in the state and the antiabortion-rights group Nebraska Right to Life support continued medical assistance for low-income pregnant women. They argue that the main beneficiaries of prenatal care ultimately would be the infants. More than 12 other states have created non-Medicaid programs similar to the program proposed in Campbell's original bill.

Earlier in the week, Campbell had tabled the original proposal in favor of the compromise because she thought she could garner sufficient support for the scaled-back proposal to maintain access to prenatal care for the 1,500 women who lost coverage at the beginning of March as a result of the federal government's announcement. Under the compromise, the care would expire by the end of this year.

After she learned on Tuesday that Heineman also opposes the compromise, Campbell said she would move forward with the original bill, which lawmakers are scheduled to debate on Wednesday. Bills can pass with 25 votes, but overriding Heineman's veto requires support from 30 of the Legislature's 49 senators.

This year's election also could affect the bill's prospect, the AP/Times Herald reports. Thirteen senators face challengers in re-election bids this year, and lawmakers are concerned that a vote for the bill could be interpreted as helping undocumented immigrants (AP/Pennsylvania Times Herald, 3/17).