By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler supports a bill in the Legislature that would expand Medicaid – as is allowed by Obamacare and vehemently opposed by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.
Beutler said Friday the most important issue facing the Legislature this session is a bill, LB577, that would expand Medicaid to Nebraskans who earn up to $26,344 for a family of three. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that it’s up to states to decide whether they want to participate in that part of the Affordable Care Act, a move Heineman opposes.
But Beutler said if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, Nebraskans would pay taxes for a program in which they couldn’t participate.
“It’s time to bind up the wounds of a long and heated national debate and to move forward together,” Beutler said. “With federal funds to pay for these services, we would cause a huge injustice to our citizens by not using these funds to give them the ability to have medical care.”
The federal government will cover all of the costs of the program from 2014 to 2016, after which the federal contribution drops to 90 percent. But Heineman doubts the feds will deliver on their promises, pointing to broken promises on things such as special education. Heineman has repeatedly said expanding Medicaid would cost Nebraska millions of dollars, requiring cuts to public schools and colleges.
Joining the mayor in supporting the Medicaid expansion was Lancaster County Commissioner Deb Schorr, whose board supports the move because it would free up an estimated $2.8 million in county funds spent on general assistance medical costs.
The heads of Lincoln’s two largest hospitals also came out in support of the bill, saying it would reduce the number of uninsured people who go to emergency rooms for medical care. An estimated 54,000 Nebraskans — 18,000 in Lancaster County — would be eligible for Medicaid benefits if the program were expanded.
Kim Russel, CEO of Bryan Health hospital in Lincoln, said Obamacare reduced federal funding to so-called safety net hospitals such as hers, reducing federal funding by about $5 million. Expanding Medicaid would make up for some of that loss, she said.
The governor was not available for comment.
Beutler’s public pronouncements about a state issue prompted Nebraska Watchdog to ask whether he is interested in running for governor in 2014 – as has been rumored – but he said through an aide that he’s “enjoying his work as mayor very much.” His mayoral term ends in 2015.
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