LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers are expected to start their debate about expanding the Medicaid program to low-income adults in about two weeks.
In anticipation, five state senators joined the leader of the Platte Institute on Wednesday to show their opposition to the idea.
State Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, one of the five, said a government program is not the answer to providing health care for uninsured Nebraskans.
“Do you want to live in a state where one in five people is on Medicaid?” he asked. “We're having trouble paying for Medicaid now.”
Legislative Bill 577, the Medicaid expansion bill, would extend the medical care coverage to an estimated 54,000 to 80,000 low-income Nebraska adults.
The proposed expansion was made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act.
It would cover low-income people without minor children, who cannot qualify for Medicaid now. It also would cover parents and disabled adults who make too much to qualify for Medicaid under current income limits.
Jim Vokal, executive director of the Omaha-based think tank, said senators need to look carefully at estimates of the potential costs and savings from the expansion.
A new institute study raised questions about four studies that have tried to develop such estimates for Nebraska.
State Health and Human Services officials have estimated the state's net cost at $116 million over the next seven years. Legislative fiscal staff put the cost at $75 million.
The federal government is to pay 100 percent of costs for the additional coverage from 2014 through 2016, with federal funding declining to 90 percent of costs by 2020.
Vokal said the size of the federal debt should raise concerns about the promise of federal funds for the expansion.
“Policymakers should evaluate the legal, fiscal and political sincerity of any (federal) guarantee,” he said. “This is a huge expense that Nebraska is considering to undertake.”
But Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, one of the key backers of the expansion bill, said the federal government has never reduced its level of support for Medicaid in previous decades.
He said President Barack Obama has vowed not to put Medicaid funding on the table for budget negotiations.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said opponents of the expansion do not talk about the human side of what it would do.
He said about 5,000 of those expected to be covered by the expansion are veterans. Many are low-income workers who cannot afford health care.
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