Debate on whether Nebraska should expand Medicaid will pick up Wednesday morning with the clock ticking toward a crucial vote for supporters trying to overcome a filibuster.
Opponents of LB 887, this year’s Medicaid expansion bill, have found they haven’t had to work too hard.
“You know, I came here to filibuster this bill and gosh darn it, the proponents are filibustering it for me,” Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion told colleagues during legislative debate Tuesday.
Kintner made the observation as proponents of LB 887 held the floor for most of the debate that stretched from just after the lunch-hour break to into the evening. Lawmakers clocked just over six-and-a-half hours of debate. Once they reach eight hours, supporters of the measure can move for a cloture vote, a vote to end the filibuster and vote on advancing the legislation.
That vote should come sometime Wednesday morning.
Supporters will need 33 votes to break the filibuster. Indications are it will be a close vote.
Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln sponsors LB 887, the Wellness In Nebraska Act. She insisted during her opening that it is a much different bill that the Medicaid expansion measure that failed to clear a filibuster last session. Campbell stated in her opening that it was a bill tailored to Nebraska, requiring those enrolled to pay small premiums and take measures to stay healthy.
It would expand the state Medicaid program to the working poor, those earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. It is estimated slightly more than 50,000 Nebraskans would qualify.
The carrot offered the state by the federal government is funding. Expansion is optional for states after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but struck down the provision to require Medicaid expansion. The federal government promises to pay the full cost of expansion for the first three years and 90% thereafter.
Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha told colleagues during legislative debate that though expansion is estimated to cost the state $61 million over the next six years, it would save the state money by shifting some current health care programs to the Wellness In Nebraska program.
Also, Nordquist said the state would be able to draw down $2.1 billion in federal funding.
“Now, no one, I don’t care what side of this issue you’re on, can look at me with a straight face and say a return of $2.1 billion to our economy between now and 2020 won’t have a positive impact on jobs, won’t have a positive impact on tax revenues at the state level and at the local level,” Nordquist said. “It certainly will.”
Though supporters dominated debate early, detractors had their say as well.
Sen. John Murante of Gretna said Medicaid expansion represents an ideological divide than cannot be crossed, a divide that he stated grew deeper with passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“The merits of this issue passed the United States Congress on a party-line vote and that wasn’t all because of the partisanship that runs rampant in Washington,” according to Murante. “It’s because of a philosophical difference in not only what government should be doing, but what government is capable of doing.”
Supporters though pressed their case that this offered the best chance to provide coverage for those who do not qualify for the Medicaid program, yet do not make enough to afford health insurance.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln noted to colleagues the debate takes place during March Madness.
“The real madness folks is in the reality that 54,000 Nebraskans are working, but they don’t earn enough to afford health insurance,” Avery said. “That’s the madness.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]
AUDIO: Sen. Kathy Campbell opens debate on LB 887. [10 min.]