By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — State Sen. Kathy Campbell wants to expand Medicaid as prescribed by the Affordable Care Act, and she has some powerful backers.
Campbell is a Republican, and so was one of the lawmakers standing with her on Wednesday — Omaha Sen. Bob Krist.
Gov. Dave Heineman has opposed the move loudly.
The Republicans’ public support and leadership on an issue is yet another indication of Republican lawmakers’ willingness to part ways with the Republican governor.
Heineman repeatedly, and vehemently, has said he opposes expanding Medicaid because he doesn’t believe the federal government will follow through with the funding it has promised.
But GOP lawmakers have shown increasing independence from the governor, even though they control the one-house Legislature. Last session, they helped override Heineman’s vetoes of bills allowing cities to increase their sales-tax rates and a bill providing prenatal coverage to illegal immigrants.
Now, Democratic Sen. Jeremy Nordquist has predicted he can cobble together enough support to override the governor on the health care issue, too.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states can opt in or out of the provision expanding Medicaid to those who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — or $26,344 for a family of three. Campbell said 20 percent of Nebraskans would qualify for the expanded health insurance program.
The feds will cover all the costs from 2014 to 2016, after which federal support drops to 90 percent. However, Heineman said he doubts that commitment, pointing to broken promises on funding things such as special education.
Last week, the governor said expanding Medicaid would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” that should be going to public schools, colleges and universities.
Heineman has stood firm while other Republican governors have come around to the idea. Krist noted that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez all have decided to expand Medicaid.
Krist said the time has passed to debate the merits of ObamaCare and now “the only debate left is whether leadership allows us to keep our money or bring money back to care for Nebraskans.”
Nordquist said Nebraskans already pay for uninsured people through higher premiums paid to cover health care given in emergency rooms and through property taxes that fund county medical assistance programs.
“Make no mistake, we already pay for the coverage of the uninsured,” he said.
Campbell pointed out that when Medicaid was launched in 1965, it was optional. Only about half the states joined the program its first year, but eventually all 50 states signed up.
“Can we afford to leave this many tax dollars on the table at the federal level?” Krist asked. “This is a human question. (The) bottom line for me is that this is the right thing to do for our people.”
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