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Lawmakers Look to Expand Medicaid Eligibility for Pregnant Women

February 11, 2009

Pierre, SD – South Dakota lawmakers are looking at providing help for more pregnant women in the state. Three million state dollars could extend Medicaid eligibility for low-income pregnant women without health insurance.

The state lags behind others in the region, with just 78 percent of pregnant women receiving first-trimester care. Dr. Susan Randall, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children, says a bill up for consideration today by a Senate committee would close that gap. She says the measure would help fight the high mortality rate that results when women fail to get good prenatal care early in their pregnancies.

"It provides prenatal care and pregnancy medical services for women who are living with family incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard, which in our state is 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That standard is the level the baby becomes eligible for at the moment of birth, but what we've got is a gap before that, where we don't provide medical services under Medicaid for pregnant women."

Appearing before the committee today is Dr. Ann Wilson, a professor of Early Childhood Education at South Dakota State University, who will be speaking as a private citizen. Wilson has spent more than 20 years studying the pre-natal care that South Dakota women get. Her research shows that, for every dollar spent on prenatal care, an estimated two to three dollars or more in postnatal care is saved. An additional $4.60 in incremental costs for special education and health care is also saved.

"So, it's an expenditure that would be cost-effective in decreasing money spent to care for babies whose problems could be prevented if appropriate prenatal care were provided, but also human costs in terms of morbidity associated with the delivery of babies who are low birth weight or pre-term."

Susan Randall says the act calls for 3.1 million dollars in general funds and 5.1 million in federal funds to provide prenatal care to an estimated 1400 eligible women in South Dakota. Some lawmakers worry about the cost, but Randall says the measure goes forward only if the economic stimulus package increases the federal match rate for Medicaid.

David Law, Public News Service - SD