A public hearing at the Capitol gave a chance for those both for and against Medicaid expansion to weigh in the ballot measure.
Around 60 people attended the hearing at the state Capitol in Lincoln last night hosted by Secretary of State John Gale. State law calls for public hearings to be held in initiative petitions appearing on the ballot.
Both proponents and opponents got a chance to have their say.
Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln presented the opening statement in favor of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which appears as Initiative 427 on the November ballot. He pointed out it is estimated Medicaid expansion would cover 90,000 low-income Nebraskans now without health insurance.
“These are moms and dads who need to stay healthy to take care of their families,” Baker stated. “These are our neighbors, who you see at your kid’s Little League games. These are people who work one or more jobs, trying to pull their families out of poverty.”
Baker also argued the state would benefit economically from the influx of federal funds which would flow to the state once it expands Medicaid. Under the ACA, the federal government pays 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion, an estimated $600 million a year.
But, Jessica Shelburn with Americans for Prosperity warned Medicaid expansion hasn’t gone as planned in the 33 states which implemented it.
“Every state that has expanded Medicaid has seen enrollment increase by almost 90% more than what they had anticipated,” according to Shelburn.
Shelburn stated though federal funds are promised, state government must still have to pay upfront costs.
It is estimated Medicaid expansion would cost $148.3 million over a three-year period. Nebraska is expected to receive $1.359 billion in federal funding over that three-year period.
After the formal presentations, those attending got their chance to weigh in on the issue.
Amanda Gershon of Lincoln said she became ill at a young age, becoming permanently disabled by the age of 33. She has recovered, but medical bills mounted and after totaling $60,000, she declared bankruptcy.
“Medicaid expansion will help reduce bankruptcies like mine due to medical debt,” Gershon said. “It will keep people working longer, keep them off of disability. Initiative 427 will help hard-working Nebraskans be able to take care of their health.”
Yet, Richard Ott of Omaha said Medicaid should not be expanded to cover able-bodied individuals.
“The working people have just put too much out and not getting near enough back,” according to Ott. “Why should we have to always give up for somebody that’s is too lazy to get out there hold a job down and do what it takes to work?”
Chip Smith of Omaha expressed disbelief in the estimate that expansion would cover 90,000 Nebraskans.
“Don’t be surprised when all the estimated numbers are wrong,” Smith said. “By then, it’s too late. People will leave Nebraska looking for other states with lower tax rates and decreasing tax revenues even further.”
But, Kathy Ward, a volunteer for AARP Nebraska said the experience of the 33 states which have expanded Medicaid demonstrated improved health for residence who live in those states.
“Evidence from other expansion states indicates greater use of preventive services, increased treatment for chronic conditions, and improvements in self-reported health,” according to Ward.
President of the Lincoln Education Association, Rita Bennett, said expansion would lead to healthier school children.
“There’s a false narrative being circulated by opponents of healthcare expansion,” Bennet stated. “The argument is that measure 427 would take away from funding for our schools and education system. We do not believe this is the case. In fact, federal funding for Medicaid expansion never dips below 90%.”
Steven Johnson of Ralston said expansion might appear like a good idea, but it doesn’t resolve health care problems.
“We have these feelings in our heart that we wish to help each other, but we also have how are we going to pay for it?” Johnson said. “But, more importantly, how are we going to solve the problem? That’s really what we’re here to do is solve the problem.”
A public hearing on the issue was held earlier in Omaha. A third public hearing is scheduled for Grand Island on the 30th at the College Park of Grand Island Theater Room. It is scheduled to begin at 6pm.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]