Nebraska lawmakers debated a bill Tuesday that would expand Medicaid for low-income, childless adults in Nebraska.
With the expansion, the first three years would be funded by the federal government, and that assistance would never be less than 90 percent.
The federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare," paved the way to expand Medicare to cover another 50,000 or so low-income Nebraskans.
The senators passed an amendment Tuesday that would allow lawmakers to review the policy in the future if federal funds decrease.
The amendment passed with a 30-12 vote, but Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha moved to reconsider the vote. Senators are expected to continue discussing the motion.
“I don’t think we’ve had full and fair debate,” McCoy said. “We’re talking about something that is vitally important to our state budget.”
Some supporters of the bill said it would not raise taxes because funds from other existing health care programs for uninsured residents would not be needed and could be "re-purposed."
Some programs currently using taxpayers’ money, such as one for AIDS drug assistance, would be covered by the expanded Medicaid policy, allowing those funds to be transferred somewhere else, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha said.
Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha added that expanding Medicaid could also create more health care jobs in Nebraska.
Other proponents said expanding Medicaid coverage would help these individuals receive preventative care rather than forcing them to wait until they needed the emergency room. This would ensure that emergency rooms would be more readily available for actual emergencies.
Senators also mentioned that many veterans would be able to utilize Medicaid if it were expanded to include this new income range.
“There are a number of low-income veterans who fall through the cracks,” Nordquist said. “These are not government dependents. These are people the government depended on.”
Opposing senators expressed concern about what the policy may end up costing Nebraskans, especially if the federal government does not fulfill the promise to offer at least 90 percent of the funds and whether the policy were sustainable.
“I am a skeptic when it comes to expanding Medicaid, in this state or in any state, when institutional dysfunctions, which always trump good intentions, place at risk already scarce tax dollars,” Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said.
Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk said that, even if the federal government upheld its promise to fund 90 percent of the expanded Medicaid, Nebraska residents would still pay for it through federal taxes.
“Regardless of where those dollars come from, they are our dollars,” Scheer said.
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a conservative who plans to run for Governor, also said many Nebraskans would not support this expansion.
“I feel confident that my constituents by a majority, a large majority, are in opposition to LB 577,” Janssen said.