Senators renew push to expand Medicaid

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May 1, 2013 - 5:45pm

Senators favoring Medicaid expansion renewed their arguments in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday. And while they didn’t get a vote, at least one senator who had opposed a vote said he had changed his mind.

Senators were in the midst of a daylong debate on a relatively obscure topic: which court should hear appeals of Public Service Commission rulings. But then, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha proposed to put off further debate on that topic, and started talking about Medicaid.

Medicaid has been one of the major question marks in this legislative session: whether or not the state would expand the program to cover about 54,000 low-income adults without children.

Supporters say it would help those who would get health coverage, opponents say the state cannot afford the 10 percent share it will have to by 2020.

Lathrop emphasized the benefits of expansion on rural hospitals that might otherwise have to close. He was supported by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, who read a long list of hospitals that would benefit from expansion "Bear with me," Hadley asked his colleagues, before reading a list of hospitals in towns such as Schuyler, Blair, Osceola and Benkelman.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, whose district includes several small hospitals, said they represent access to medical care. "Having a hospital in Central City, in Aurora, in Genoa is a very, very important issue and concern for my constituents," Dubas said. "As I visited with those hospitals and asked them ‘How does Medicaid expansion help you?’ basically they said ‘Something is better than nothing.’"

Hospitals argue while Medicaid reimbursement rates are low, getting paid that way is better than not being compensated for care given to uninsured patients.

Almost all the senators who spoke had previously indicated they favored Medicaid expansion. But supporters need 33 votes to overcome a filibuster by opponents, which they didn’t have when the bill was debated last month.

In one sign of progress for supporters, Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo said while he still has questions about expanding Medicaid, he will ask to be removed from a list of those supporting the filibuster against it. "I’ve even prayed about it. I’ve been waiting for an answer to come in order to help me out on this. And even before this discussion today, because I’ve been pondering this for quite a while, I will ask for my name to be removed from that document that was mentioned before, because I believe this issue needs to come to a vote.

Asked about Johnson’s switch, Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, a leading opponent of Medicaid expansion, said he’s not too worried about it. Bruce Rieker of the Nebraska Hospital Association said that group will step up grassroots lobbying efforts on behalf of Medicaid expansion over the upcoming four-day legislative recess.





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