Until 2010, Nebraska was one of 15 states that funded prenatal care for illegal immigrants through its Medicaid program. That year, the federal government prohibited the state from using federal Medicaid funds, limiting such coverage to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This ban resulted in the loss of prenatal care for 870 women illegally residing in the state. However, Nebraska lawmakers took a stand last week, voting 30 – 16 to override Governor Dave Heineman’s veto of a bill that would reinstate prenatal care for illegal immigrants at the cost of Nebraska taxpayers.
Governor Heineman and other opponents of the bill point out that during the past two years, in which the state was not paying for the prenatal care, illegal immigrants were obtaining low-cost or free care from charities and churches. The Governor maintains that charity care should remain the status quo, and that “providing preferential treatment to illegals while increasing taxes on legal Nebraska citizens is misguided, misplaced and inappropriate.” Senator John Nelson agreed, stating, “No on is being turned away…They’ve been finding a way.”
Other Senators raised concerns that passage of the bill will make Nebraska a magnet for illegal immigrants who are seeking free prenatal care–especially since no other states surrounding Nebraska provide such services. Additional concerns include opposition from state residents who grapple financially to pay for their own health care and find it unfair to have their tax dollars stretched further to provide health care for illegals.
Strong supporters of the bill included “pro-life” advocates who contend that the measure will protect the interests of unborn babies, which have no control over their circumstances and will be legal citizens upon their birth. Other supporters included professionals in the health care field, who testified that $4 dollars will be saved for every dollar spent on prenatal care since the care will prevent easily avoidable complications upon birth, when the child would be covered by government programs anyway.
Advocates of the bill included the Nebraska Right to Life organization and the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, bringing together some uncommon political allies. Appleseed Center’s public policy director argued that illegal immigrants are “…in our communities and they’re helping contribute to our communities…so we believe providing this kind of prenatal coverage to their children is appropriate.”
Governor Heineman advised lawmakers that they will suffer long-lasting political consequences for voting to override his veto of the bill.
The bill, which is expected to provide care for 1,100 illegal immigrant women and their babies, goes into effect in three months. Lawmakers estimate that the cost will be $1.9 million in federal funds and $560,000 in state tax money.