Having moved past the mid-point of
its 2012 regular session—37 of the 60 legislative days were completed as of
March 1—the Nebraska Legislature is focused on legislation with priority
status. Each of the 49 lawmakers has chosen a priority bill and each of 14
standing committees, plus the Executive Board, has designated two priority
bills. In addition, the Speaker of the Legislature has prioritized 25 other
The Speaker, Sen. Mike Flood of
Norfolk, will determine the scheduling of the 104 priority bills for the
remaining days of the session. Some time might be set aside as well for
moving some minimally substantive, non-controversial measures through the
process on a time-limited basis known as the consent calendar.
From the perspective of the
Nebraska Catholic Conference, LB 599 is a highly significant priority
bill. It would reinstate a pro-life policy that was rather suddenly
terminated two years ago, after decades of assisting the health and
well-being of unborn children of impoverished mothers.
In late 2009, the federal Centers
for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified Nebraska that its decades-long
policy of providing access to prenatal health care through Medicaid had to
be terminated for some unborn children. The reason? Medicaid does not
include the unborn as eligible recipients of financially-assisted medical
care, which is the way the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
had long been administering coverage for prenatal health care. Nebraska was
warned that Medicaid only considers the eligibility of the pregnant woman.
Under Medicaid rules, pregnant women who, even though they qualify as
impoverished, are nevertheless ineligible for prenatal care coverage if they
are unauthorized immigrants or incarcerated or subject to public-assistance
So, Nebraska had to stop what it
had been doing on behalf of some vulnerable unborn children in impoverished
families. It was estimated the number of cases so impacted on an annual
basis was more than 1,500.
Nevertheless, a way of re-instating
access to prenatal care for these vulnerable unborn children,
notwithstanding the disqualification of their mothers, was readily apparent.
Another federal-state joint program, the Children’s Health Insurance
Program, recognizes the unborn as eligible recipients in their own right.
For CHIP purposes, the definition of "child" explicitly includes unborn
children "from conception to birth."
CHIP has a specific unborn-child
option that states can apply for and implement. What’s more, the state’s
financial match rate is less for CHIP than it is for "regular" Medicaid.
This is a significant economic factor, but an even more significant economic
factor is the undisputable evidence that prenatal health care results in
healthier babies and considerable cost savings over time.
In early March 2010, Archbishop
George Lucas, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz and Bishop William Dendinger joined
in writing to Governor Dave Heineman, urging him to authorize application
for the CHIP unborn child option.
Describing it as "an important and
urgent Pro Life matter," the Bishops wrote: "The immigration status of
their mothers should not be allowed to adversely affect the health and
well-being of the unborn children. When balanced against the legitimate
public-policy concerns about illegal immigration, caring for the unborn
children should be the higher priority, as the right thing to do."
Regrettably, the Nebraska
Department of Health and Human Services has declined to apply for CHIP’s
unborn-child option. Readily apparent is that Governor Heineman’s
administration has chosen to view this as an immigration issue rather than a
pro-life or health-care issue. "No benefits for the illegals" is the
The flaw in that assertion is that
these unborn children, who are at risk of not receiving vitally important
prenatal health care with this means of access denied, are not "illegals."
Either they have no immigration status or they are presumptive citizens,
because they will be citizens upon birth. In any event, they are
In 2010, an effort was made—through
LB 1110—to legislatively direct Nebraska DHHS to apply for the unborn-child
option under CHIP. That effort failed to garner enough support. LB 599 is a
renewed effort to accomplish the objective.
There are at least four reasons why
LB 599 is a significant pro life issue; for which pro life Nebraskans
urgently need to speak up in support of the unborn as the Legislature
decides on public policy. First, it is potentially harmful to the health and
even the lives of unborn children not to provide for their prenatal care.
Second, failing to implement this specific and readily available means of
access to prenatal health care for unborn children unjustly punishes them
for the circumstances and actions of their mothers. Third, the lack of
access to prenatal health care could be a decisive factor in causing some
pregnant women to choose abortion over childbirth, each time a tragedy.
Fourth, denying prenatal care coverage in these circumstances of family
poverty is an affront to the individual human dignity of the unborn and to
pro life principles.
For more information ion this
issue, visit www.nebcathcon.org.