Cutting off prenatal care would be penny wise, pound foolish

Monday, April 9, 2012

The governor says it's about encouraging illegal immigration. Others see it as a pro-life issue.

They both have valid arguments, but like so many contentious issues, it comes down to money.

Lawmakers advanced LB 599 Wednesday, which would restore prenatal coverage to undocumented pregnant women, but only by 29-16, one vote shy of that needed to override a veto.

Nebraska provided prenatal care to illegal immigrants until 2010, when the federal government ordered the state to stop offering the benefits through Medicaid. Some 870 illegal immigrants and 750 legal residents lost coverage at that time.

The bill passed Wednesday would allow pregnant women to enroll in the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, which allows unborn children to qualify for federal- and state-funded care. It is estimated it would extend coverage to an estimated 1,162 fetuses each year.

Gov. Dave Heineman predicts Nebraska "will become a magnet for illegal aliens" if the bill passes, as the only state in the region to provide such benefits.

Speaker Mike Flood says data doesn't support the idea that illegal immigrants would move to a state just for prenatal care, and we tend to agree.

The fact is, the children will be U.S. citizens once they are born, and it is wiser to provide prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds and other medical care before that time, when it is more effective and economical.

Cutting off prenatal care will only push medical expense farther into the future, when the accompanying expense, not to mention heartbreak, will be that much greater.

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