The writer is executive director of Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
As someone who grew up in a small town in Nebraska, I know that leaving our neighbors behind is not a Nebraska value. When a neighbor needs help, Nebraskans reach out their hands and do what’s right. It is one of the great things about who we are as Nebraskans and part of what makes our communities strong.
However, right now 54,000 of our neighbors are being left out of our health insurance system. They don’t qualify for Medicaid but make too much money to receive help buying private health insurance coverage. Every other Nebraskan has access to a form of coverage except this group, and that’s simply not right.
The Affordable Care Act has presented Nebraska with a landmark opportunity for everyone to have access to good-quality, affordable health insurance, and thus far as a state, we’ve been successful at helping more than 20,000 uninsured Nebraskans get covered.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska is in the top 20 among states when it comes to meeting its targeted goal of people signing up for health insurance. That means more parents, more workers and more of our friends and neighbors who can afford to see a doctor when they need to.
There’s more good news: We have a solution on the table in the Legislature right now to bridge the coverage gap. Legislative Bill 887, also known as the Wellness in Nebraska (or WIN) Act, would provide health insurance for Nebraskans who have no other way to afford health coverage.
WIN would provide essential health insurance to tens of thousands of Nebraskans, allow for innovation in our health care system and return billions of dollars to the state. WIN also incorporates many of the suggestions made by senators and others last year during the debate on health coverage.
The bill includes a private insurance option in addition to Medicaid coverage to help working people who earn low incomes get covered while requiring personal contributions toward premiums. The bill also focuses on wellness with incentives for making healthy living decisions.
The WIN Act would allow us to access federal resources that have already been allocated for health coverage and which many states are taking advantage of already. We could bring $2 billion of our federal tax dollars home to improve coverage and reduce uncompensated care costs in every corner of our state. And with the innovations and opportunities in WIN, we can plan for future needs in a way that reflects our state’s values.
Having thousands of Nebraskans unable to get health care coverage puts a strain on our health care system. It shifts costs to those with insurance, it encourages inappropriate use of our health care system, and above all, it leaves our economy and our communities weaker when people who get sick or injured cannot afford care.
Leaving our neighbors behind is not a Nebraska value. With Nebraska so close to having a health care system that works for everyone, it does not make any sense to allow this gap to remain. A well-thought-out solution that reflects our Nebraska values is before us. Passage of LB 887 would save lives, save dollars and make sense.
Let’s seize this moment and make sure no Nebraskan is left behind.