Around 1,000 pregnant women who are illegal immigrants will no longer receive prenatal services through the federal-state Medicaid program, beginning in early spring, according to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services leaders.
The prenatal care issue creates a conflict between two state goals:
- On the immigration front, senators have wanted to make certain that illegal immigrants do not get any public benefits, passing strong anti-immigration legislation (LB403) last year.
- Because of the strong pro-life sentiment, Nebraska also has provided Medicaid coverage for all pregnant women, regardless of their immigration status. The assumption is that the prenatal coverage also is for the benefit of the unborn child, who will be a U.S. citizen once born.
However, federal officials have told state leaders that federal law prohibits Medicaid coverage for people who are not documented except for emergency care. That means no prenatal care for pregnant moms.
Unlike Nebraska, which provides coverage for the unborn, the federal government has no similar concept.
"Unborn child is not an accepted Medicaid eligibility group," said Vivianne Chaumont, director of the Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care, in a letter to state senators.
"The only Medicaid coverage that is available for an undocumented alien pregnant woman is the cost of delivery and the cost of treating complications of pregnancy considered to be emergencies," she wrote.
The federal government pays for about 60 percent of the costs of the Medicaid coverage and state taxes pay the rest.
If senators want to provide prenatal care for pregnant mothers who are illegal residents, the Legislature will have to create a separate non-Medicaid program in state statute, according to the letter from Chaumont.
The state is reviewing the 6,000 pregnant women receiving Medicaid-funded prenatal care, according to Kerry Winterer, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. All women who are not legally in the country will lose their benefits, likely on March 1, he said.
The state estimates that somewhere around 1,000 women now receiving prenatal care are undocumented and will lose Medicaid prenatal coverage. That coverage costs around $850 to $950 per woman, according to Chaumont.
Winterer said the letter was intended to bring the issue to the attention of senators, letting them know there must be a legislative solution if they want to continue the program.
Several senators said they had only recently received the letter and had not had time to consider a solution. "It is still just too new and everyone has had too much going on to sit down and talk about this issue," said Sen. Tim Gay, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee.
"It caught everyone off guard," he said.
Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.