- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A plan to provide prenatal care to pregnant women who are not U.S. citizens was rejected Thursday by the South Dakota Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

A separate bill that sought to provide health care for low-income women who are in the country illegally or on visas was killed last week by another legislative panel, with the idea that the money to provide that care would be added to next year’s state budget.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget office proposed that change. But when the Appropriations Committee began considering proposed changes to the budget Thursday, the panel without comment rejected an amendment that would have changed the state’s Medicaid program to provide the prenatal care to pregnant noncitizens.

Supporters said such care would save money and lives because prenatal care promotes healthy infants. Babies born to noncitizen mothers become U.S. citizens because they are born in the country.

The prenatal care measure was one of 13 proposed changes to the budget rejected Thursday by the Appropriations Committee, which has a long list of other suggested changes to consider when it resumes work Friday. The panel is working to put the finishing touches on the budget so the House and Senate can pass the spending plan Friday, the final day of the main run of this year’s legislative session.

Senate Appropriations Chair Deb Peters, R-Hartford, said negotiations were continuing late Thursday on proposals to provide extra money to school districts and health care facilities that rely heavily on funding from Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides medical care for low-income people.

The budget will spend about $4.3 billion in state, general and other funds in the year that begins July 1. The Appropriations Committee focuses primarily on the $1.4 billion portion that is funded with state taxes and other general funds.

One of the proposals rejected Thursday would have expanded the Medicaid program to cover an estimated additional 48,000 low-income people. Its rejection was largely a formality because the state has been trying unsuccessfully to win federal approval for a partial expansion that would cover fewer people than envisioned in the federal health care overhaul.

States have the option of expanding Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Daugaard and Republican lawmakers want to expand eligibility only up to 138 percent of the poverty level because those above that mark can buy subsidized private insurance through the health care law, but federal officials have refused to approve that plan.

Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said the state would spend only $1.9 million next year to get $273 million in federal money to expand Medicaid, a move that would help poor people who cannot afford health insurance.

“We have to do something to address these people,” Sutton said.

But Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, said low-income people now get care from free clinics and other facilities. He said a Medicaid expansion seems “like a bunch of free money,” but the state might get stuck with the bill if the federal government doesn’t meet its pledge to pay most of the costs.

The committee also rejected a plan by Mickelson that would have used $ 1 million from a welfare program’s reserve fund to help the state’s four technical institutes. Officials said the plan would cause problems with that reserve fund.

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