Debate over Medicaid expansion hits senate floor

By: Bill Schammert

As the sun set and the clock ticked past 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night, debate still raged on over Medicaid expansion at the State Capitol. 

This year's plan, introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, is called the Wellness In Nebraska (WIN) Act. The goal, to insure about 54,000 Nebraskans who fall into the coverage gap.

People in the “coverage gap” make too much money for Marketplace subsidies and not enough to afford their own insurance. Sen. Campbell calls it too rich for Obamacare and too poor for the state of Nebraska.

“Because of the waiting, the studying and the research, we now have a far better bill,” she said in her opening remarks. A bill to expand Medicaid last year stalled in a filibuster.

The WIN Act would be matched by federal dollars at 100-percent until 2016, that number would gradually decrease to a 90-percent federal match by 2020. The state of Nebraska would then pick up the rest. 

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist cited the $61 million fiscal note as responsible, noting it's just one-quarter of one-percent of the state's general fund. 

“I don't think we're going to have to raise taxes to absorb that,” he said. “I don't think we're going to have to cut education to absorb that.”

Some opinions have changed since last year. Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor was against the 2013 bill, now he's in support.

“We can't just say no,” the senator said. “We have to do something about these problems and we cannot continue to cost shift.”

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist also flip-flopped. He supported Medicaid expansion last year, but changed his mind because of the lack of cooperation between the Executive and Legislative branches.

“We're not going to talk about that this year because the governor won't talk about Health Care in the state of Nebraska,” he said. 

And there is still a lack of confidence amongst many conservatives.

“I'm not sure it makes sense for us to commit to a financial burden that we can't possibly afford if the federal government doesn't keep their promise,” Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner said.

The senate adjourned at about 8:15 p.m. and is expected to pick debate back up in the midst of a filibuster Wednesday morning at 9:00.