INDIANAPOLIS — When the health of Linda Ramos' significantly premature baby "crashed" in the neonatal intensive care unit and Sara had to be put on artificial respiration to stay alive, Ramos was able to get from her Schererville home to her daughter within minutes, instead of hours.

That's because Sara Ramos was being cared for at the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital rather than Riley Hospital for Children, nearly three hours away in Indianapolis, where most Indiana babies and children facing life-threatening conditions are treated.

"I was able to get in my car and drive to the University of Chicago in 45 minutes and be at my child's bedside. That is so important to a mom," Linda Ramos said.

"Things change very quickly in the neonatal intensive care unit and your child is hanging by a thread. Being able to get there at the drop of a dime is critical."

Sara Ramos today is a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Indianapolis studying to become a physician assistant, in part to give to others the quality care she depended on from the moment she entered the world weighing just 1 pound, 11 ounces.

"Premature babies are born with a lot of risks and it's very critical that the mom and the child have a bond right away. Being at the University of Chicago allowed my mom to see me every single day, and we still have that bond today — my mom is my best friend," Sara Ramos said.

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Legislation pending in the House Ways and Means Committee would ensure that more Northwest Indiana families are able to have their seriously ill babies and children treated nearby at the University of Chicago, instead of having to go Indiana's capital city.

House Bill 1238 requires Indiana's Medicaid program pay the same rates for care at the University of Chicago children's hospital as it does in Indianapolis, rather than the sharply reduced rates typically paid to out-of-state health care providers.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, sponsor of the measure along with state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said the University of Chicago currently accepts Indiana's out-of-state rates for the roughly 200 Hoosier children on Medicaid that it annually treats.

But Soliday said he's concerned that might not always be the case, if, for example, a financial crisis forced the hospital to consider whether Indiana children are worth treating.

"I have difficulty believing that would happen to little kids. But the other side of it is, what's right?" Soliday said. "It's only fair that we pay the same we would pay in Indiana."

The committee is likely to vote next week to advance the proposal to the full House.

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