As the Nebraska Legislature nears the end of its 2013 session, senators who favor expanding Medicaid say they’ll try again next year
By their own account, senators who favor expanding Medicaid had a legislative majority this year. But they didn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a filibuster by opponents. At a news conference that resembled a kind of pep rally in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday, Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, flanked by about two dozen other senators, said supporters aren’t giving up.
While Medicaid expansion opponents, including Gov. Dave Heineman, have said the state cannot afford its eventual 10 percent share of the cost, Campbell argued the issue is not about numbers and money. "This is about the poorest of the poor. This is about working Nebraskans. This is about the man who waits too long for care, and faces cancer which is then far advanced," Campbell said. "These people and countless other Nebraskans deserve and will get our best work in the months ahead. And that’s what all the senators here pledge," she added, as the crowd, which included staff and representatives of interest groups that support expansion applauded.
About another 54,000 Nebraskans would have gotten health coverage starting in January if the state had agreed to expand Medicaid. Instead, senators will study the issue over the summer, and look at alternatives being considered in other states.
Campbell predicted opponents of expansion may change their minds as their constituents see they’re being left out. "They’re going to find out ‘I don’t qualify. Or my neighbor doesn’t. Or my relative. But somebody I know, they’re going to qualify in Colorado. Why is that?’ And they’re going to dial up that senator and they’re going to say ‘I’m not qualified. But they told me I could be if we had expansion,’" Campbell predicted.
But in a later interview, Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, a Medicaid opponent whose district borders on Colorado, said such pressure probably wouldn’t change his mind. "In Imperial we have all kinds of people moving from Colorado to Nebraska, because our benefits are higher. And I’m not sure that’s a group we want to encourage to move here. We want workers into this state, we want business owners, and we want things this way," Christensen said.
Christensen said he’s willing to listen to arguments for expanding Medicaid. But for now, he said, he and most of his constituents are firmly opposed. "It’s been a landslide of people responding to me from my district saying ‘Don’t do it.’ I think a lot of that has to do with the work ethic and things that we have in western Nebraska. I believe you need to work to eat. There’s a scripture that even says those that are able to work should work or they shouldn’t eat. So I think it’s very clear where I’m going to stand. But I’m willing to read anything and learn more," he declared.
Also on Tuesday, the governor signed bills offering more services for youth aging out of the foster care system, a pay increase for judges, and a subsidized employment pilot program. In addition, he signed a bill offering sales tax breaks for wind energy development.
That bill also contains a provision that prevents Omaha from increasing sales taxes by half a percent. Heineman said he signed the bill because he supports that. But he repeated his criticism of the wind power tax breaks, expected to provide a $7 million to $8 million benefit to Kansas-based TradeWind Energy, a company that wants to build a wind farm in northeast Nebraska. In a statement, the governor said he shares concerns that amounts to "corporate welfare."