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Lawsuit seeks to keep Medicaid expansion proposal off November ballot

Lawsuit seeks to keep Medicaid expansion proposal off November ballot

LINCOLN — A state lawmaker and former lawmaker filed suit Tuesday seeking to keep a Medicaid expansion proposal off the November ballot.

The lawsuit was filed in Lancaster County District Court by State Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft and former Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial.

The two are being represented by J.L. Spray, a Lincoln attorney and the state Republican national committeeman. Brasch is the state Republican national committeewoman.

Last week, leaders of Insure the Good Life submitted more than 135,000 signatures on a petition seeking to expand Medicaid to about 90,000 more Nebraskans.

That amounts to a 60 percent cushion, virtually assuring that the petition will have the 84,268 valid signatures of registered voters needed to put the issue to voters this fall.

In the suit, Brasch and Christensen ask the court to keep the proposal off the ballot by declaring it “invalid and legally insufficient.”

They argue, among other things, that the expansion proposal contains more than one subject, in violation of the Nebraska Constitution, and does not properly disclose the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest as a petition sponsor.

Insure the Good Life was one of four sponsors listed on documents filed with the secretary of state. The three others are individuals. According to the suit, Insure the Good Life is a registered service mark of Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life, expressed confidence that the expansion proposal will appear on the ballot.

“This is clearly a desperate attempt to block the people’s ability to voice their opinion on this issue and ensure affordable health care for 90,000 Nebraskans,” she said, adding that Brasch and Christensen have failed to find solutions for working Nebraskans to access health care.

Secretary of State John Gale, who was named as a defendant along with the petition sponsors, said he could not comment until he has seen the lawsuit and consulted with Attorney General’s Office.

Brasch said she joined the lawsuit out of concern that the cost of the proposed expansion would have a “negative impact on property taxes.” The state’s share of costs for expansion would be about $110 million per year. The federal share would be about $1 billion.

While the money would come from state general funds, meaning income and sales taxes, not property taxes, Brasch said the money comes from the same taxpayers.

“I just think there’s some very important unanswered questions here,” she said.

The suit said Christensen joined out of concern that expanding Medicaid would reduce or alter the Medicaid services now provided to his disabled son.

Their arguments echo those put forth by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has fought legislative efforts to expand the health program. Legislative proposals have failed six years in a row, in the face of stiff opposition from Ricketts and, before him, Gov. Dave Heineman.

The expansion proposal would provide health coverage to single adults and couples without minor children who cannot qualify for Medicaid now, as well as parents and disabled people, with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level — $16,753 for a single person or $34,638 for a family of four.

Federal law has allowed states to expand their Medicaid coverage since 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA requires the federal government to pay 94 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion programs in 2018, with the federal share declining year by year until plateauing at 90 percent by 2020. The state pays the rest.

The Medicaid expansion portion of the federal law has survived attempts to repeal the broader law. So far, 32 states, including Iowa, have expanded their Medicaid programs.

Gale said his office expects to have the petitions processed and ready to send to county election officials by the end of this week or early next week. The county officials then will have 40 days to check the signatures against voter rolls.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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