Ricketts not pursuing Trump-approved Medicaid work requirement

Sen. Burke Harr speaks on banning ivory sales (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 11, 2018 - 6:11pm

Nebraska does not plan to use the new work requirements for Medicaid recipients approved by the Trump administration, the administration of Gov. Pete Ricketts says. Proposals on Medicaid expansion and toughening requirements for economic incentives have been introduced. And in legislative debate, there was a “RINO” sighting.

Under a new rule released by the Trump administration Thursday, states can require Medicaid beneficiaries to work, volunteer or participate in job training. People who are elderly or disabled, and pregnant women and children, would be excluded.

Medicaid officials say good health is correlated with having a good job and this will help people rise out of poverty. Critics says having Medicaid makes it easier for people to find work, and imposing a work requirement could backfire.

Ten states have already applied to add work requirements to their Medicaid programs. But there are no such plans in Nebraska. The Department of Health and Human Services says the new rules could apply to just under 19,000 people – only 8 percent of the state’s Medicaid population. They are low-income caretaker adults with dependents in their home. The Department’s Rocky Thompson said the state doesn’t intend to use the new federal permission – officially dubbed “work promotion” and “community engagement” – for those people. “The state does not anticipate using work promotion and /or community engagement requirements for this category,” Thompson said. “It does not make operational sense to utilize these requirements in light of the administrative oversight required to implement and enforce them.”  

Taylor Gage, spokesman for governor Pete Ricketts, said the new federal permission is primarily aimed at states that expanded Medicaid and serve large numbers of able-bodied adults. Gage says Nebraska has “wisely” rejected Medicaid expansion.

One person who doesn’t agree with that is Sen. Adam Morefeld. In the Legislature Thursday, Morfeld introduced a constitutional amendment to let voters decide if they want to expand Medicaid in the state. The action follows voters in Maine approving Medicaid expansion despite opposition from that state’s governor. Under former gov. Dave Heineman and Ricketts, senators have rejected legislative efforts to expand Medicaid by increasing margins for the last five years. So, why, Morfeld was asked, does he think he can get 30 votes this year to put it on Medicaid expansion on the ballot? “I’ve heard from some of my colleagues that they’re more supportive of putting it to a vote of the people than they are voting for it themselves,” he replied.

And if it gets on the ballot, does he think Nebraskans will approve it? “There is a poll out there. I’m not willing to divulge exactly what the results of that is. But I wouldn’t be introducing it if I didn’t think that we had a chance,” Morfeld said.

Another proposal introduced Thursday, by Sen. Sue Crawford, would raise requirements on companies to qualify for tax breaks under the Nebraska Advantage program. Crawford says the state need to focus on attracting good-paying jobs. She said one key part of the legislation would require companies to pay at least 110 percent of the average wage in the county to qualify for tax breaks. Crawford said currently, companies can qualify if they pay as little as 60 percent of the state average wage.

And in legislative floor debate, Senators rejected an attempt to make  the sale or purchase of ivory a state crime. Sen. Burke Harr made the proposal, which he said was designed dry up the market for ivory from illegal hunting, or poaching of animals including rhinoceri and elephants. “What we’re trying to do is to provide some local law enforcement of an international problem. I’ve yet to hear anyone say they want to or want to encourage the sale of ivory. Why? Because we know that the higher and more sale of ivory that there is, the more likely you are to have this poaching that’s going on,” Harr said.

But Sen. Mike Groene said he thought enforcement should be left at the federal level. “If ivory is stopped, it’s going to be at the borders of the country – of the USA – not at the borders of Nebraska,” Groene said.

The debate brought out a little political humor. After he got an amendment adopted, Sen. Paul Schumacher said he was warming up to the proposal. “I’m beginning to like this bill more and more, because it was just pointed out to me that this bill protects RINOs,” Schumacher quipped, referring to the label “Republicans in name only” sometimes applied to moderates like him by more conservative party members. “There’s a small herd of them in this room that really need protection, and who people want to eliminate,” Schumacher said.

After about an hour of debate, senators voted on Harr’s bill. Only 19 senators supported it – 6 short of the 25 vote majority it needed – so the bill did not advance.






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