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The North Dakota Senate voted Tuesday to expand Medicaid eligibility for low-income pregnant women.

Senators sent House Bill 1515 to the chamber’s budget-writing committee after passing it in a 35-10 vote. It easily passed the House last month.

The bill, sponsored by several Democratic lawmakers, would direct the state Department of Human Services to seek federal approval to expand medical assistance coverage for pregnant women with income below 162 percent of the federal poverty level. North Dakota currently allows for up to 152 percent of the poverty level, well below the national median of 200 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Supporters described the proposal as a modest change that would help reduce abortions and increase access to prenatal care. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimated 455 additional pregnant women would qualify for coverage annually.

“This bill is not a moral judgment about low-income pregnant women,” said Sen. Kristin Roers, R-Fargo, a registered nurse. “The deed is already done at this time. They have found themselves to be pregnant.”

The bill faced opposition from some Republican lawmakers who argued it represented an expansion of government benefits.

“Any behavior where the government is paying households ... it’s an incentive sometimes not to go out and seek work in the job force,” said Sen. David Clemens, R-West Fargo.

Under the bill, a single pregnant woman making less than $26,665 annually would qualify for Medicaid.

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