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Nebraska City News-Press - Nebraska City, NE
  • Nebraska Expansion of government-funded health coverage defeated

  • Supporters of the Wellness in Nebraska Act, or WIN, came up short Wednesday morning after an effort to cut off the filibuster on Legislative Bill 887.
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  • Supporters of the Wellness in Nebraska Act, or WIN, came up short Wednesday morning after an effort to cut off the filibuster on Legislative Bill 887.
    After a 27-21 vote, with one senator not voting, the effort to expand government-funded health coverage to more low-income residents was defeated.
    WIN would combine Medicaid, private insurance, wellness incentive and cost sharing to cover Nebraskans making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
    Debate Tuesday indicated that passing the bill would be difficult. The first attempt to pass a needed amendment was troubling to supporters as they fell one vote short of the required 25, with 23 senators sitting out the vote. The second attempt to pass the amendment succeeded on a 29-7 vote, with 10 senators abstaining. 
    Debate went late into Tuesday evening, with speeches about state priorities, political policies and financial questions.
    Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, the chief architect of the bill, said LB887 would help an estimated 54,000 uninsured Nebraskans in its first year.
    Currently, most uninsured residents have no options for healthcare coverage. Many do not qualify for the current Medicaid program, and most cannot afford to buy private health insurance through the new federal marketplace.
    Opponents of the bill questioned the bill's cost and its links to the controversial federal health care law.
    The Affordable Care Act, the federal law, planned to use Medicaid to cover people below the poverty level, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that expanding the law was voluntary for states.
    Under LB 887, federal Medicaid funds would pay 100 percent of the cost of covering additional people through 2016. After that, the federal share would fall, reaching 90 percent by 2022 and continuing at that level.
    The net state cost would be an estimated $62 million for the six years ending June 30, 2020, while the federal share would total $2.2 billion, according to legislative fiscal staff.
    Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha said there is no data that shows passing the bill would be financially risky.
    "It shows that this would cost $61 million over six years," he said. "That's less than a quarter of state spending."
    As debate continued Wednesday morning, Sen. John Murante of Gretna said those against the bill are not in opposition because they don't care about those who are less fortunate, but because they are not convinced that the proposed course of action will do the greatest amount of good for the most people.
    "What does the most amount of good for the most amount of people is when we empower the people of Nebraska to make choices and to live with them," Murante said.
    Page 2 of 2 - After Campbell's motion for a cloture vote, debate ceased for LB887 for the remainder of the session unless the speaker chooses to bring the bill back to the floor.
    Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln said Wednesday after the morning debate that the Legislature made a mistake by not passing LB887.
    "We have made a terrible mistake," Avery said. "Doing nothing is not an option." 
    Avery said those 54,000 Nebraskans affected by the bill deserve to live without anxiety and without having to go to the emergency room, which taxpayers pay for, every time they are sick or injured. 
    He also said the passage of LB887 would have saved the state money, not cost it more as many senators argued. Nebraska will not receive $251 million in Affordable Care Act funding, and other states will get it instead.
    "We are not going to get a penny back," Avery said. 
    Campbell said Wednesday afternoon that she wasn't surprised at the bill's outcome because the topic is fluid, and people change their minds on the issue. 
    Before reintroducing Medicaid reform next session, Campbell said she would like to have a conversation with the new governor and the 17 new senators to see what they are thinking. She will also continue to monitor others states' Medicaid reform to see if there is a better process.
    -- Danae Lenz contributed to this report.

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