Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Bill Expanding Prenatal Care Services to Undocumented Women
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state's Medicaid agency, voted 6-1 on Thursday to approve a rule that will allow undocumented pregnant women to receive prenatal care as long as their infants become citizens upon birth, the Tulsa World reports (Riggs, Tulsa World, 10/12). States are required by federal law to pay for emergency labor and delivery services of undocumented women, who do not qualify for other Medicaid services (Mock, Oklahoman, 10/11).
Under the rule, set to take effect Jan. 1, undocumented women will receive coverage for prenatal care services that are needed to protect the health of the fetus. The women still will not qualify for full Medicaid benefits, according to officials. At least 12 other states, including Texas and Arkansas, have similar regulations (Tulsa World, 10/12).
Health officials maintain that providing the women with prenatal care will help reduce the future medical costs of their infants, who will be eligible for government-funded health benefits. According to the state Medicaid agency, Oklahoma in the last fiscal year paid more than $8.5 million for care of 2,778 infants born to undocumented women who had received no prenatal care services (Oklahoman, 10/11).
State Rep. Randy Terrill (R) said he will challenge the rule at the next legislative session and will seek recommendations from Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D). "What they're doing is clearly in violation of federal law," Terrill said (Tulsa World, 10/12). He added that the law "will cause more desperate women to illegally cross our borders under dangerous circumstances that will likely jeopardize the lives of their unborn children, while diverting resources that should go to Oklahoma's poor citizens" (Oklahoman, 10/11).
Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan (D) said the agency's approval of the rule sends an "important message" about Oklahoma's values, adding, "Anyone who questions the decision by the OHCA to offer this fair shot at life to innocent children is sending a dangerous and hypocritical message that they do not embrace a culture of life." Paul Sund, spokesperson for Gov. Brad Henry (D), said, "The governor appreciates the board's work and will approve the rule as soon as he receives the paperwork" (Tulsa World, 10/12).