The elimination one year ago of Medicaid funding for prenatal care for about 1,600 low-income women has had dramatic effects, doctors and health clinic administrators reported Wednesday.
At least five babies have died.
Women are traveling 155 miles to get prenatal care.
Babies have been delivered at clinics, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms.
The health care providers were testifying before the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee on a bill (LB599) that would direct the state to pay for prenatal services for those uninsured women with a Children's Health Insurance Program.
About half of the women dropped from the program are undocumented. Those babies are U.S. citizens as soon as they are born and will automatically qualify for Medicaid health services upon delivery.
Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell introduced LB599, not with the hope of getting it passed this session, she said, but to keep the issue in front of senators and to continue to gather information on the effects of the women's elimination from the Health and Human Services program.
Dr. Caron Gray, from Creighton University Medical Center and clinics, said the issue isn't about dollars and cents.
"We can sit here and talk about costs as much as we would like, but I think we really need to be honest about what this is truly about ... political beliefs and standing on what to do with immigration," Gray said.
The cost has been transferred to hospitals and clinics that are now seeing those patients without Medicaid insurance.
In the past year, Creighton has delivered about 30 babies a month whose mothers were undocumented.
Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer of One World Community Health Centers in Omaha, said that in the past year, only about half of uninsured women are receiving any prenatal care.
The health center has more premature births to uninsured women, compared to insured women. Uninsured mothers were twice as likely to deliver through cesarean section, which is more expensive.
At the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus, the number of female patients has doubled, and the income for the prenatal program has dropped drastically, said Rebecca Rayman, executive director. Women are coming to the center from 22 counties.
Even with shifting money from other programs, the clinic finished 2010 losing $167,530.
Four infants died in utero at the Columbus health center, she said. In the previous seven years, the clinic had never had an in utero death.
Vivianne Chaumont, director of the state's Medicaid division, testified in opposition to the bill. She said the state would have to create a separate standalone CHIP program with the law.
The cost to administer the separate program would be significant -- $232,000 in the first year and $437,000 in the second year, she said.
In addition, services in the first partial year would be $3.3 million in state and federal funds, and $6.6 million annually after that.
"Our position is that we shouldn't be spending any money for people who are here illegally," she said.
Campbell said the committee would continue to look for sustainable funding for the uninsured women. That will take at least another year, she said.