A new approach to expanding Medicaid has been unveiled at the state Capitol.
But, it faces the same opposition that has blocked expansion in past legislative sessions.
State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha sponsors LB 1032, the Transitional Health Insurance Program Act, which he says combines the use of private insurance with efforts to transition Nebraskans off public assistance.
McCollister acknowledges he campaigned against the Affordable Care Act as executive director of the Platte Institute prior to being elected to the Unicameral, but has concluded the federal health care law will never be overturned.
And McCollister says other Republicans have reached the same conclusion, at least when it comes to accepting the federal government’s generous offer to pay 90% of the cost of expansion.
“Expansion isn’t a partisan issue,” McCollister tells reporters during a Capitol news conference. “Thirty-one states have expanded Medicaid and another four or five are underway. Republican governors in nine states – Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Ohio – have expanded Medicaid or defended past expansions in their state.”
Opposition remains in the Unicameral. McCollister’s old employer, the Platte Institute, has come out against his plan and it appears enough senators stand in opposition to keep the plan from getting to a vote. Gov. Pete Ricketts has also reiterated his opposition.
Under the ACA, the federal government has promised to pay 90% of the cost of expansion. Proponents of expansion estimate it will bring two billion dollars into the state over the next five years and lead to creation of as many as 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The Transitional Health Insurance Program Act would use Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for most of the 77,000 Nebraskans who would be covered under Medicaid expansion. Medicaid dollars could even be used to supplement employer-sponsored insurance coverage.
Recipients would be required to pay 2% of their monthly income as an insurance premium. The use of a hospital emergency room for non-emergency visits would cost $50 under the plan.
Enrollees in the program would be referred to job training and educational programs aimed at getting them to higher paying jobs with better benefits.
Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, who has unsuccessfully sponsored Medicaid expansion bills in the past, says this latest proposal could really help those working poor trying to get ahead.
“It is a transition for Nebraskans to their own health care,” Campbell says. “It is a transition to preventative care. It is a transition to workforce and education and it is a transition to decreased dependence on public programs.”
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha asserts the proposal should address the concerns raised over the years by opponents.
“I think it’s paramount that we’ve been able to draft something that is bipartisan in nature, that’s General Fund-neutral moving forward and, to some extent, tries to take what we’ve heard from the opposition over the last three years, in floor debate and outside of the legislature; we have taken their considerations, their concepts and proposals and have incorporate (them) into this third way approach,” according to Mello.
Nebraska would have to receive a waiver from the federal government to implement the plan.
AUDIO: Sen. John McCollister hosts news conference on his Transitional Health Insurance Program Act. [14 min.]