Steamboat Springs Gov. Bill Owens' plan to offer prenatal care for uninsured women in the state might help area public health agencies in their efforts to promote healthier birth outcomes.
Owens said he wants to include $18 million in next year's state budget to provide prenatal care for 3,300 women who would not otherwise get prenatal care because they are uninsured and receive little income.
The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association receives limited funding from the state to help out women who cannot afford the cost of prenatal care, said Marilyn Bouldin, director of the nurse family partnership.
That money, however, has run out halfway through the year for several years, she added.
"It's more or less pass-through money," she said. "They give us money, and it goes fast because we use it to pay for what we can of these medical services."
Bouldin said it would be difficult to determine how many of those 3,300 women might live in Northwest Colorado.
"We've seen an increase in the number of uninsured in our community, but there's no way to tell how many," she said.
The VNA always offers prenatal education, counseling and referral, but those services cannot and should not replace medical prenatal care given by a doctor, Bouldin said. The state does not offer prenatal care to women who are 19 and older.
Women with limited incomes and no medical coverage may go without seeing a doctor for several months during pregnancy, said Patsy Ford, director of Routt County public health.
Medicaid covers prenatal care, but undocumented women do not qualify for Medicaid until delivery and even then, coverage is only temporary, she said.
"There are a number of women who have gaps in their prenatal care," Ford said. "When you've got pieces missing in your prenatal care, you are much more at risk for problems after pregnancy."
She said he was hopeful the proposed spending for prenatal care would reach Routt County.
"Anytime you are talking about expanding prenatal care, that is a good thing," she said.
The smallest increase in funding for prenatal care means large gains in infants' health after birth, she said.
Women without prenatal care are more prone to early deliveries, babies with low birthweight and difficulties with infant illnesses and death, Ford said.
"It just makes sense that you pay a little to reap the gains and pay less after the baby is born," she said.
The VNA negotiates lower fees for prenatal care with physicians, and area health providers said they are willing to work out methods of payment to ensure all women receive prenatal care.