August 27, 2014

Governor resists, senator pushes for expanded Medicaid (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman leans toward rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid while a state senator says Nebraska should seize the opportunity.

Heineman has insisted the state cannot afford to expand Medicaid even if the federal government eventually picks up 90% of the tab. He challenged senators favoring the federal healthcare bill to find savings in the budget to pay for it.

“And let those who are for it, I’ll just mention a few; Sen. Nordquist, Sen. Mello, Sen. Lathrop, if they want to stand up and say the programs they’re going to cut in state government, I think we deserve to know that, right now,” Heineman said during an interview with the Jack and John Show on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “What are they prepared to cut in order to implement this expansion?”

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha has taken the governor up on the challenge. Nordquist responded on KLIN’s Jack and John Show. Nordquist said there are areas that could be trimmed to pay for the Medicaid expansion, just as the high-risk health insurance pool.

“Once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented and no one can be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, there is no need for that comprehensive, high-risk pool anymore,” Nordquist said. “That’s $20 million a year that is available that we can use to fund healthcare.”

Nordquist also suggested shifting some transportation funding to Medicaid.

Though Nebraska enjoys an economy that is the envy of many states, it still faces budget problems. The legislature will enter a new session and begin work to draft a new budget, facing a projected $620 million shortfall.

Heineman said that makes his question even more important, but Nordquist turns the question back on the governor. Nordquist accused Heineman of refusing to answer a similar question posed by lawmakers when he backed shifting a portion of General Revenue funding to roads and proposed cutting taxes at the beginning of the last legislative session.

At issue, is the proposal contained in the federal healthcare law approved in 2010 and upheld by the United States Supreme Court. The proposal promises full federal government funding to the states to expand Medicaid for the first three years and 90% funding thereafter.

Heineman contended that the federal government will likely lower that percentage over the years. Nordquist countered that the federal government has held its overall Medicaid funding at 60% for years and he sees no reason to believe the government will renege on the promise.

The state continues to study how best to implement the health insurance exchange required by the law.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]