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Editorial: Medicaid expansion has arrived; Nebraska must now make it a success

Editorial: Medicaid expansion has arrived; Nebraska must now make it a success

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A daily concern has long hung over the heads of tens of thousands of low-income Nebraskans. These men and women have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but they still lack adequate health insurance coverage.

Prenatal treatment, dental work, prescription needs, a heart attack — the prospect of these and many other major health needs and their expenses has weighed greatly on these Nebraskans.

Now, at last, the state is offering help. Nebraska this month joined the 38 states plus the District of Columbia that have adopted expanded Medicaid coverage. Nebraskans approved this step, which this newspaper editorially supported, in a 2018 state ballot initiative under procedures from the Nebraska Constitution.

The arrival of this expanded coverage also can help in the wake of the COVID crisis, which has pushed many Nebraskans out of their jobs. More than half of those Nebraskans will be eligible for Medicaid expansion, according to the advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed.

This expansion of coverage is by no means an urban-only endeavor. A considerable portion of Nebraska’s rural residents also will be eligible. The benefits from this historic step will be statewide.

More than 9,780 Nebraskans have enrolled so far, and the state Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 90,000 Nebraska eventually will sign up. This help will have life-changing importance for adults and children across the state, as World-Herald news coverage last week noted.

“It’s a huge relief. It’s a huge load off my shoulders,” said Omahan Viola Tiedemann, who is seeing an orthopedic surgeon and other medical staff about her health needs. “I read the letter three or four times to make sure I was reading it correctly,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. Thank you, sweet Jesus.’ I was ecstatic.”

If federal authorities approve, Nebraska will require Medicaid expansion enrollees to meet requirements to get a full range of benefits including dental, vision and over-the-counter medications. The requirements are to include wellness, personal responsibility and work or other “community engagement” activities.

Coverage for dental, vision and over-the-counter medications will be available already for people considered medically frail, pregnant women and young adults ages 19 and 20. Among the conditions that could qualify someone as medically frail are a disabling mental condition, chronic substance use, chronic homelessness or a serious and complex medical condition.

People can sign up for coverage via the ACCESSNebraska website or by calling 800-383-4278. In addition, free assistance for enrollment is available online at Enroll-NE.org/Local.

The task now is to make Medicaid expansion a success. This will require efficient procedures and processing, plus dedicated work by the full range of Nebraska medical facilities. Nebraska surely is up to the task in taking this landmark step forward to boost the well-being of our residents.

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