By Eric Galatas, Public News Service - Nebraska
Groups across Nebraska are working to gather enough signatures by the state’s July 6 deadline to put Medicaid expansion onto the November ballot.
Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says if approved by voters, some 90,000 Nebraskans could finally access health coverage.
She notes the policy would be especially helpful for rural residents employed by small businesses.
"A large number of employers have 50 or fewer employees and they don't provide benefits or insurance coverage as part of their compensation,” she explains. “Because of their size, they're not able to provide those benefits. And so those are the people that are often falling into that gap."
Rasmussen says expanding Medicaid would help workers currently stuck in what she calls a health coverage gap. They don't earn enough to get subsidies to buy insurance through the federal marketplace, and earn too much to qualify for standard Medicaid coverage.
Opponents of expansion say it could add to the federal deficit and warn that the state could be on the hook for Medicaid costs if the Affordable Care Act eventually implodes.
Rasmussen says Nebraskans' tax dollars already are paying for expanded coverage in other states, and argues the move could bring billions of federal dollars back into the state and create some 10,000 jobs.
She notes Nebraskans also are responsible for costs passed along to consumers when patients without insurance can't pay.
Rasmussen says people without coverage frequently put off treatment until they get really sick, which is far more costly.
"Preventative care, as opposed to coming into an emergency room setting,” she explains. “You know, if you've got a cold, if you can stop that before it becomes pneumonia, there is huge cost savings there."
Rasmussen says beyond the economic arguments, the effort is ultimately about making sure all of the state's residents can get the care they need.
She urges anyone who sees signatures being collected at a local grocery store to consider helping get the measure onto the ballot, so that all Nebraskans will have a chance to vote yes or no this November.