Nebraska voters to decide Medicaid expansion

(MGN)

Whether or not to expand Medicaid comes before Nebraska voters, and it could have far reaching consequences.

It's an issue retired hospital administrator and former state senator Mike Gloor knows well, and he says it would help tens of thousands of working poor.

“These are people that we know, thank goodness there aren't lots and lots of them. But there are enough that this particular initiative can make a difference,” Gloor said, saying these aren’t people sitting around home, but people in low pay jobs, or working part time jobs.

Initiative 427 would raise the income cutoff, to 38 percent above the federal poverty line.

For an individual, the income guideline goes from $12,000 to $17,000 a year, and a family of four would see the level raised from roughly $25,000 to $35,000 a year. Supporters say it would cover about 90,000 Nebraskans.

Gloor says as it stands now, some quit their jobs to get coverage.

“What a perverse incentive that is, is that we have an opportunity here with the majority of these funds coming from federal tax dollars that we pay in, to come back and include those people now,” Gloor said.

Not so fast says a group of 11 state senators, including Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard.

He said, “When other people have tried and other states have tried and it's been a failed experiment there, there's no reason for us to reinvent the wheel and try to do it there.”

Erdman points to Kentucky, where they are restructuring their program. 34 states have expanded Medicaid, moving the income guideline from 100 to 138 percent of the poverty line.

Erdman says it’s foolish to count on federal dollars.

“I don't know if they understand this but the federal government doesn't have any money. The state doesn't have money. We get it from someone else and no one has ever given you something they didn't first take from someone else,” he said.

Erdman and ten others wrote a letter, saying a Medicaid expansion would cost $33 million a year now, and balloon to hundreds of millions a year in the future.

He says that could hurt school funding or property tax relief, and hurt those already on Medicaid.

“There will be services that will be lost by people who actually are getting them now,” Erdman said.

Mike Gloor grows angry when he hears the arguments.

“Aggravation to the point of anger of the hypocrisy of many politicians who are saying we can't afford to do this, this is going to be a drain,” he said, saying many of those same politicians support Tax Increment Financing and similar tools.

Gloor argues it's economic development. Researchers have found when Medicaid expands, the government recoups its investment as kids grow up healthy to pay more in taxes.

And Gloor says it deals with the issue of uninsured people who show up in the emergency room.

He said, “Now we're talking about a program where we get people into the system, they have an insurance card. They can get their flu shots, they can get their blood pressure medicine, to avoid them coming in and being charity care.”

Erdman's not buying it. He says it would burden taxpayers. Others say it puts able-bodied people on a welfare program.

Now it's up to voters to settle the argument.

If you want to know more, the Secretary of State is holding an education event next Tuesday night in Grand Island, where both sides will make their arguments.

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