Groups Push Neb. To Continue Funding Prenatal Care for Undocumented Immigrants

February 9, 2012 — Nebraska Right to Life, the March of Dimes and representatives of the Catholic and Methodist churches were among the organizations that called on Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday to continue allowing low-income women who do not qualify for Medicaid coverage -- including undocumented immigrants -- to receive state-funded prenatal care, the Omaha World-Herald reports (Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, 2/8).

For decades, Nebraska allowed undocumented immigrants to receive prenatal care through Medicaid, mistakenly violating a federal rule. Federal officials in 2009 told the state that it must discontinue the coverage (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/24/10).

A bill (LB 599) introduced last year would allow the state to provide prenatal coverage to undocumented immigrants through the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. State Sen. Kathy Campbell, chief sponsor of the bill, said she expects the Health and Human Services Committee to discuss soon whether the full Legislature should debate the bill. Campbell also said the committee, which she chairs, is working to track the effect of halting the benefits, though she is unsure whether that information will be ready before spring 2012. "It's not a question of whether this issue will ever come up, it's when," she said.

Gov. Dave Heineman objected to an attempt to revive the issue in 2010, saying he opposed granting taxpayer benefits to undocumented immigrants. Budgetary issues squashed another attempt to raise the issue in 2011 (Omaha World-Herald, 2/8).

Neb. Legislature Approves Family Planning Bill After Adding Funding Restrictions

On Tuesday, the Nebraska Legislature gave first-round approval to a bill (LB 540) that would expand Medicaid family planning coverage, after lawmakers attached an amendment prohibiting any group that "performs or promotes elective abortion" from receiving funds from the coverage, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

Under the bill, the state would request HHS permission to offer Medicaid family planning services to residents with incomes of up to 185% of the poverty level. Medicaid already covers family planning services for people who are enrolled, most of whom have incomes below the poverty level.

The state Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 26,000 additional women would qualify under the expansion. Bill sponsor Sen. Kathy Campbell said the state would save $5.5 million in general funds by spending an estimated $514,000.

Sen. Tony Fulton, who pushed for the amendment, said the provision would apply to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Sen. Ken Haar said Fulton's amendment would destroy the bill's intention, which is to expand access to family planning coverage. Haar noted that HHS in December denied Texas' request for a Medicaid family planning waiver because it included a similar restriction on funding to Planned Parenthood. HHS said the state could not exclude qualified health care providers from Medicaid.

The World-Herald reports that Medicaid family planning waivers have helped other states save money. In Minnesota, the number of abortions also declined after more women gained access to family planning (Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, 2/7).