This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah health officials are considering tweaking a decades-old practice of handing out nine-digit identifiers to Baby Your Baby applicants who claim not to have Social Security numbers.
The move comes after it was revealed that some of the ID numbers were issued to undocumented immigrants who aren't eligible for the prenatal program and that the numbers bump up against real Social Security numbers belonging to people in the Northeast.
There's talk of "tweaking the digits a little, not a full-scale move from nine digits," said Tom Hudachko, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Health. Federal officials at the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) suggested that one way to avoid conflicts would be to start each number with three zeroes, Hudachko said.
That may appease the SSA's Office of the Inspector General, which had begun examining Utah's numbering system.
But a state lawmaker is calling into question the Health Department's approach to vetting Baby Your Baby applicants, saying it confirms what he has long suspected that undocumented immigrants are obtaining public benefits for which they're not eligible.
"It just doesn't look good for Utah. We seem to be so willing to tolerate illegal behavior," said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo. "My fear is we'll become a sanctuary state. Despite what some say, that will hurt us. It's misplaced compassion."
Baby Your Baby is a form of Medicaid that pays for up to two months of doctor visits, ultrasound exams and other tests. It is reserved for citizens and immigrants who have legally lived in Utah for at least five years. But under a streamlined application process, applicants need only attest to their income and citizenship.
Federal law bars states from requiring proof.
Doing so would defeat the purpose of the program, which is to quickly get needy, expectant mothers to a doctor while they wait 35 to 45 days for their Medicaid applications to be vetted, said Lincoln Nehring, a senior health-policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.
Baby Your Baby applicants are presumed to be eligible for Medicaid until proven otherwise. Such programs have been shown to reduce birth defects and expensive health complications for mothers and babies, Nehring said.
But some have taken advantage of the program's "Don't ask, don't tell" philosophy.
The state's practice of furnishing ID numbers to immigrants who lie about their citizenship and say they don't have Social Security numbers came to light in connection with allegations against the now-defunct WestView Women's & Family Medical Center. Authorities allege an employee at the West Valley City clinic told hundreds of patients to lie about their citizenship status in order to obtain prenatal benefits.
In one case, a state-authorized Baby Your Baby worker gave a woman who was an undocumented immigrant a "program" number that was identical to the Social Security number of a deputy police chief in Maine.
The clinic's owners haven't been criminally charged and deny any wrongdoing.
State officials won't comment on the WestView investigation, but deny they've encouraged or enabled fraud.
The Utah Attorney General's Office is still evaluating evidence obtained during an August search of the clinic.
"It just confirms what a lot of us already knew was going on," Herrod said. "I hope we follow up with an audit and that the attorney general looks at this. I think this is just a drop in the bucket."
Herrod added: "State officials are consistently saying illegal immigrants aren't getting benefits. But it appears they are and at tremendous costs to taxpayers and privately insured citizens who get stuck with higher premiums."