Close to 70 people gathered on the Capitol steps Wednesday evening to celebrate the passage of a bill that would restore prenatal care to women who lost Medicaid insurance two years ago.
But they acknowledged there is more work to do as Gov. Dave Heineman has promised to veto the bill.
The Legislature passed LB599 on a 31-15 vote. It would restore prenatal care, mostly to babies of undocumented mothers. Without an emergency clause, the bill would take effect July 19.
Heineman, who has five days to sign or veto the bill, has opposed it strongly, saying it is not a pro-life bill, but one about illegal immigration, and will draw undocumented women to the state to take advantage of the benefits.
Rebecca Rayman, from the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus, told people at the rally the bill is about babies.
On March 1, 2010, she said, her health center underwent terrible changes with the denial of Medicaid coverage of prenatal care to so many women.
It went from serving about 159 pregnant women before 2010, to 366 in 2011, with women driving there from all over the state for care. The clinic serves patients on a sliding fee scale.
"We are spending so much more money taking care of sick babies than we need to spend," the clinic manager said. "We need to keep fighting for this bill. We can't stop now."
At a news conference prior to the rally, Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, read from an email she had received from a clinic worker who has cared for some of the uninsured women.
One woman, about six months pregnant, had come to the clinic in March without having had prenatal care. She had developed an infection that likely would have been caught in a prenatal visit, the email said.
The mother was sent to Omaha to deliver. The infant remains in the neonatal intensive care unit and may have permanent disabilities, the worker said.
"A couple of dollars for an antibiotic ... would have saved thousands of dollars," the clinic worker wrote. "I never want to have this happen again."
Prenatal care matters, and it matters for a lifetime, said Campbell, as she stood in front of about a dozen senators who supported the bill.
Committee Vice-Chairman Mike Gloor of Grand Island said the bill was a "very appropriate and commonsense approach toward preventative services."
With the bill, care would be provided to an estimated 1,162 unborn babies each year at a cost of $654,000 in state money and $1.9 million in federal tax dollars.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said he was thankful to live in a society in which a pregnant woman would not be refused care at a hospital or clinic.
"She's carrying an entirely legal individual, a person, defenseless and innocent, and (who) needs our care and deserves our care," he said. "So we have a choice of what's the best way to spend the dollars that we're going to spend anyway."
Campbell and others praised Speaker Mike Flood's leadership on the bill.
"I give great credit there for the voice that Speaker Flood has given to this issue, that has meant a great deal and (made) a difference," Campbell said.
Heineman sent a letter to Flood last week, singling him out because of his support of the bill, saying he was "extraordinarily disappointed with (Flood's) support of taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal aliens."
Campbell said: "We all have a great amount of respect for Speaker Flood, and that (letter), I think, was regrettable."
In the next week, senators will talk to constituents and others across the state to try to ensure the 31 votes in favor of the bill are sustained, in case of a veto.
Campbell, Gloor, Carlson, Flood and Sen. Greg Adams of York will hold news conferences Thursday in Scottsbluff, Kearney and Grand Island to discuss passage of the bill.