Your View: Medicaid benefits at last

Rural Health

By Trenton Buhr, former staff member. Published in the Norfolk Daily News on Sept. 10, 2020.

For most of us, the nearly two years that have passed since Nebraskans voted to expand Medicaid might be inconsequential. But, for 90,000 people stuck in the coverage gap the passing time has gone by without peace of mind.

To put it differently, about 1 in 20 Nebraskans could be covered by an expanded Medicaid program. They continue to wait without health care access. That means almost two years of no doctors appointments, no dental checkups, and no hospital visits unless it is an absolute emergency.

On Oct. 1, their wait will finally come to an end. When Nebraska voters approved Initiative 427 in the November 2018 general election, they likely didn’t expect implementation to take two years. But, that is the timeline set by Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

In that time, the Heritage Health Adult program, Nebraska’s unique version of Medicaid expansion, was created. But, unlike other states that have recently expanded their Medicaid programs, Nebraska is proposing to split the expanded Medicaid population into two coverage groups—basic and prime.

Under the basic package, enrollees will not receive dental, vision, or over-the-counter coverage. In order to receive prime benefits, individuals will need to complete a host of requirements, or “wellness activities.”

The prime coverage, however, won’t be available right away. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the federal government has not been able to approve the state’s plan as is required. Instead, everyone but those ages 19-20, pregnant, or medically frail will only have basic coverage.

Despite the setbacks, Nebraska will still see most of Medicaid expansions’s benefits take shape. At the very least, expanding is an incredible deal for the state. The federal government covers 90 percent of the cost. By the time most eligible individuals are enrolled, this will amount to nearly $480 million a year, while Nebraska will need to contribute an additional $65 million.

This massive influx of funding will pay dividends for Nebraska, with an expected $1.3 billion worth of increased economic activity in three years and support for 11,000 jobs annually.

In addition, having a more insured population will allow health care providers to accept patients and receive reimbursement for their care.

The implementation of Medicaid expansion may have come later than voters anticipated, but now that enrollment is here, we encourage eligible Nebraskans to contact their local DHHS office to apply. The healthier our state can be, the better and for some Nebraskans, expansion of the Medicaid program can mean a life or death difference.