LINCOLN — A group of state senators predicted Tuesday that, given more time, they will eventually win approval of an expansion of Medicaid.
The expansion for states that's a voluntary part of the new federal health care law was blocked by opponents this year in the Legislature.
Twenty-two state senators, at a press conference, pledged to keep working on the issue between the end of the 2013 session today and the beginning of the 2014 session in January.
State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said that by then, Nebraska citizens, employers and policymakers will have more information about the impact of Medicaid expansion on the economy and health care, leading more to support the issue.
Campbell, who sponsored Legislative Bill 577, said that even some senators who opposed the bill told her to “keep working” on the issue.
“They said if you can come back and provide new information and answers, I'll listen,” the senator said. “I am encouraged by that.”
The expansion was included in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in order to provide health coverage to more low-income citizens.
As proposed, it would bring into Medicaid low-income adults without minor children who cannot qualify for Medicaid now and also would provide coverage for parents and disabled adults who make too much to qualify for Medicaid.
An additional 54,000 to 80,000 Nebraskans would gain government-supported health care under the bill.
While a majority of state senators backed LB 577, support didn't reach the level of 33 out of the Legislature's 49 senators needed to end opponents' filibuster. As a result, the bill failed to advance.
That led LB 577 to be dropped from debate until next year. The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, of which Campbell is chairwoman, will conduct a study in the interim.
A major opponent is Gov. Dave Heineman, who has maintained that the expansion is “unaffordable and unsustainable.”
His administration estimated the net cost to the state would be $116 million over the next seven years. Legislative fiscal staff put the cost at $75 million.
As proposed in the health care law, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion from 2014 to 2016, then a declining share until the federal funding reaches 90 percent in 2022.
Heineman has also said the federal government cannot afford the multibillion-dollar price tag of its share of the expansion.
But supporters of the bill said Tuesday that Nebraskans cannot afford to forgo the federal funds being offered to expand coverage. Campbell said the state would be walking away from $423 million in federal dollars in 2014 if it fails to expand coverage.
That money, she said, would go to states such as Colorado and Iowa, which are moving forward with expansion.
Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said at Tuesday's press conference that Iowa, in a last-minute compromise, “put politics aside” and found a way to expand Medicaid for the good of its citizens.
He said rejecting the expansion will cause some rural hospitals in Nebraska to close, expose large employers to $10 million to $15 million a year in penalties for employees who lack coverage and cause larger increases in private health insurance rates due to increases in unpaid medical care for the poor.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said he was “calling out” the governor to “do the right thing” and approve the Medicaid expansion.
As of May 30, 23 states were moving ahead with Medicaid expansion and the issue was pending in eight others, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
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