When the Nebraska lawmakers voted to end Medicaid prenatal care for approximately 1500 women their unborn babies paid the ultimate price. Any labor room hospitalist who is responsible for the care of unassigned pregnant women will tell you that it is far easier to take care of pregnant women who have had prenatal care than it is to take care of women who haven’t. The recent vigil of the Equality Nebraska Coalition in front of their State Capitol to honor 5 dead babies whose death can be related to the lack of access to prenatal care speaks volumes.
On or about February of 2010, Nebraska expectant mothers received a “Dear John” letter from Nebraska’s Health and Human Services stating that their pregnancies were no longer covered under Medicaid. It appeared that the rationale for making such a drastic decision involved a resistance of state politicians to pay for medical services of “illegal immigrants.” However, when one reads the comments on a popular website called the Baby Center.com, the pregnant women who were affected were U.S. citizens who were college students, wives of husbands who had lost their medical insurance and unemployed women. Eventually all the women were able to receive government sponsored healthcare coverage but the panic preceding their reinstatement was palpable.
Emotions about “illegal” immigration are passionate and there are insightful opinions on both sides of the fence. However unborn babies are not political hostages. Unless you’ve done an emergency C. Section because of a footling breech, a placenta abruption, or on a woman on the verge of having a stroke, one does not have a clue as to the deleterious effects of withholding or denying prenatal care for pregnant women. Having a baby is not a benign act. Skilled prenatal care saves lives. As an obstetrician, I am saddened by the death of these five babies. As a citizen of the United States, I am very much ashamed. First, do no harm, Nebraska lawmakers. First, do no harm.