Nebraska Medicaid expansion pushed back to 2020

Low-income Nebraskans who qualify for health coverage under the voter-approved Medicaid expansion will have to wait another 18 months to get it.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) officials said Monday that coverage will go live on Oct. 1, 2020.

The announcement comes as the Nebraska DHHS submits its proposed Medicaid state plan amendment to the federal government for approval.     

Nebraska Medicaid Director Matthew Van Patton says the long time line is necessary to get everything ready.     

The proposal would also create two tiers of coverage.   

Basic coverage would be based on a commercial health plan, while more comprehensive “prime” coverage would require that recipients be working, in school, volunteering or caring for a relative. Prime coverage would include dental, vision and over-the-counter drug coverage.

Time line of events:

Back in November, voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid coverage to all adults whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,000 a year.

Monday, April 1st, was the deadline date for the Nebraska DHHS to submit their plan for expansion to the federal government.

“We will be launching the Heritage Health Adult Program on October 1st, 2020,” said Dannette R. Smith, CEO of the Nebraska DHHS.

90 percent of the cost will be covered by the federal government, while the state of Nebraska foots the bill for the last 10 percent.

Governor Pete Ricketts has said in the past that this will put constraints on the state budget.

“We’re going to have to fit that within the budget, I’ve been very clear we are not going to raise taxes, the people of Nebraska are taxed too high already,” said Ricketts.

Ricketts has said that K through 12 education, higher education and property tax relief could be on the chopping block to make room.

State senator Adam Morfeld is one of many who are unhappy with the start date of the benefits.

He says it shouldn’t take nearly two years to implement medicaid expansion when 33 other states have done it much faster.

“in Louisiana, it took six months and in Virginia it took eight months so there’s no reason why it should take almost two years to implement medicaid expansion. I don’t know what the governor’s rationale is but the bottom line is it’s unacceptable,” said Morfeld.

Under the proposed plan, everyone will have to apply for health care benefits, and beginning on October 1st, 2020, they kick in.

DHHS officials say the delay in implementing the expanded health coverage is due to building a new system and health services like these should be rolled out in a careful manner.

“It is better for our fellow citizens that we carefully and methodically administer the expansion appropriately. The department is committed to ensuring Nebraska’s medicaid expansion is fully functional and viable on the first day of implementation,” said Smith.

Senator Morfeld said he and others in the state legislature plan on fighting this proposal.

He said this isn’t what Nebraskans had in mind when they approved the ballot initiative back in November.

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