Deal could give prenatal care to 300 more SD women

Chet Brokaw, Associated Press
Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- More than 300 additional women, both citizens and illegal immigrants, could receive state-funded prenatal care under a proposed agreement between South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and state lawmakers Monday.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee rejected a proposal that would provide prenatal care for pregnant women who are in the country illegally. But the plan is still alive, as Daugaard senior adviser Deb Bowman said the governor has agreed to suggest amending the upcoming state budget bill allowing those women to get prenatal care.

Also Monday, the committee approved a plan to relax income limits for U.S. citizens to receive prenatal care.

Lawmakers said the maneuvering means Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides medical care for poor people, might be expanded to provide prenatal care to both citizens and illegal immigrants.

House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff's original bill, which has been approved by the House, would have changed state law to require that illegal immigrants who are pregnant receive prenatal care. Officials have estimated that 184 pregnant women a year would receive the care, costing the state nearly $245,000 under Hunhoff's plan. But Hunhoff, of Yankton, said it would save money by reducing the number of babies born with severe problems that require expensive care.

His plan now will be proposed as a change to the state's overall budget, which the Legislature plans to pass by the end of this week. Supporters have said medical care should be provided to protect all unborn children, even if their parents are illegal immigrants, while opponents have contended it could encourage illegal immigration.

"I think we could have two wins instead of one," Hunhoff said.

The prenatal care measure approved by the committee Monday would change Medicaid income qualifications to cover an estimated 139 additional pregnant U.S. citizens a year. Prenatal care is now provided to pregnant women earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level, and the bill would increase the eligibility to women at 140 percent of the poverty level.

The change in income eligibility would cost more — another estimated $464,000, according to the bill — but supporters said it also could save money by reducing costly care for babies born with severe medical problems.

Hunhoff said he hopes lawmakers will support both changes, rather than pitting two groups of poor babies against each other.

"It saves money. It saves lives. It improves lives," Hunhoff said.


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