LINCOLN (AP) — Six months after Nebraska restored prenatal care services to low-income pregnant women after a bitter fight over benefits for illegal immigrants, health clinics are reporting an uptick in the percentage of women seeking medical care in the crucial first trimester of pregnancy.
The percentage of pregnant woman who seek first-trimester care during their first visit to the OneWorld Community Health Center in Omaha has increased from an average of 78 percent before the coverage was available to 85 percent in the last four months of 2012. The remainder seeks care during later stages of pregnancy.
“In terms of coverage, it has made a huge difference in our ability to reach women in that first trimester,” said Dr. Kristine McVea, the center's chief medical officer. “When there was no Medicaid coverage, we had a problem with women not only seeking care late in their pregnancy, but also skipping appointments. They couldn't afford it.”
Restoring state-funded prenatal care services was one of the most emotionally charged debates for Nebraska lawmakers last year. The women were disqualified from Medicaid coverage in 2010.
Senators narrowly overrode Gov. Dave Heineman's veto by 30-16 and reinstated the benefit for low-income women, many of whom were illegal immigrants.
At the OneWorld Community Health Center, McVea said rates historically have moved about 2 percentage points year-to-year. When the services were revoked in 2010, the number of women who sought first-trimester care plunged from 82 percent to 60 percent.
Doctors at the Nebraska Medical Center have also noticed an increase in women who are willing to seek help earlier for pregnancy-related health problems, said Dr. Teresa Berg, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist.
Nebraska offered the state-funded prenatal care services to 1,057 women statewide between July 19, when the law went into effect, and Dec. 31, according to the State Department of Health and Human Services. The state has spent $434,168 on services during that time, but the cost might be higher because clinics have up to a year to file claims.
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, has introduced a bill this year to repeal the law. And in his proposed two-year budget to lawmakers, Heineman recommends pulling $786,000 in yearly funding for the services.
A spokeswoman for Heineman said the governor supports Janssen's bill.
The bill faces long odds. Janssen's proposal was sent to the Legislature's seven-member Health and Human Services Committee, four of whom voted in favor of restoring prenatal care services last year.
On top of that, 25 of the 30 senators who voted for the override are still in the Legislature — a majority that can ensure that the bill isn't approved.
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