Put People Above Politics, Part II

Debate over LB 887, the Wellness in Nebraska Act, promises to be a major issue facing the Nebraska Legislature. LB 887 would expand Medicaid to an estimated 54,000 people through a combination of private health insurance and wellness incentives.

Despite providing needed private health benefits to a population that is in the coverage gap – uninsured, ineligible for insurance marketplace tax credits because their incomes are too low, and without employer-sponsored insurance – some still object to LB 887.

Their arguments have boiled down to two concerns; anything else is pure partisan politics:

What does LB 887 cost? The truly independent Legislative Fiscal Office states that LB 887 will cost the state $64 million over six years, less than $11 million per year, or about 0.02 percent of total state revenue for the next budget period. An amendment to the bill may reduce costs to less than $20 million over six years, meaning, at most, it will cost each Nebraskan about 2 cents per day.

An analysis paid for by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) says the state costs will be about double the Legislative Fiscal Office estimate, over $128 million. However, that’s based on an enrollment assumption that is deeply flawed and has never occurred in the history of programs such as LB 887. The NDHHS analysis also neglects estimated savings of about $60 million per year from state programs no longer needed if LB 887 were adopted.

What if the federal government reneges on its commitment? Currently, the federal government will pay all the expense of LB 887 for the next two years and gradually reduce its share to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter. Some claim this legal promise is not sustainable despite a declining federal budget deficit. However, LB 887 must be reconsidered and re-approved by the Legislature if the federal share of the Medicaid expansion ever falls below 90 percent. This should take care of that concern.

In changing his vote to support LB 887, Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said LB 887 would make dramatic improvements in the health care system in Nebraska. Isn’t two cents per day worth it to improve our health care delivery system, provide needed health care coverage for our friends and neighbors, and save lives? It is truly time to put people before politics.