Local government, hospitals support Medicaid expansion for financial, moral reasons

2013-02-01T18:00:00Z 2013-04-14T17:41:03Z Local government, hospitals support Medicaid expansion for financial, moral reasonsBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Participating in the federal Medicaid expansion will save on property taxes, reduce the financial drain on local hospitals and lower health insurance costs, said local leaders at a Friday news conference.

And expanding preventative care for about 18,000 low-income, working county residents is the right thing to do, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said.

A group including Republicans and Democrats, presidents of both Lincoln hospitals, the chair of the county board and two state senators participated in the news conference in support of LB577, which would require Nebraska to participate in the Medicaid expansion offered by the federal Affordable Care Act.   

The act gives states the option to expand Medicaid coverage. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost from 2014 through 2016, with the percentage gradually decreasing to 90 percent later.

Gov. Dave Heineman has opposed expanding Medicaid coverage to more low-income adults, but a group of senators wants Nebraskans included.

Local leaders supported the expansion for both financial and moral reasons. 

Under the expansion, Lancaster County would save $2.8 million a year now paid from property tax dollars for the medical and mental health needs of the indigent, a county responsibility under state law, County Board Chair Deb Schorr said.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department could cut back on the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent each year on medical and dental care for uninsured residents, Beutler said.

Bryan Health, meanwhile, would recoup some $5 million in federal funds currently set to expire under the assumption of Medicaid expansion, said Kimberly A. Russel, president and CEO.

That aid is provided for the emergency care of those who previously could not qualify for Medicaid coverage. 

Kim Moore, president of Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, said the Medicaid expansion would ease a burden on five regional Catholic hospitals that results from proving $40 million in charity care.

It also will reduce hidden health care costs that raise health insurance rates, Moore said, citing national studies that estimate each family pays an additional $1,000 to cover the free hospital care provided to the indigent.  

Plus, providing better health care, more efficient health care in a more caring manner, is the right thing to do, she said.

"This is an opportunity to step up and make a smart investment," said State Sen. Kathy Campbell, sponsor of the bill and chair of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. 

The governor has said the expansion would be too costly for the state and that the federal government, although it said it will pay the full cost for several years and gradually drop to 90 percent, has a history of not keeping its promises on such things.

"To say we can't afford it just isn't true," Campbell said. "We already pay for this in the cost of uncompensated care."

The state will save an estimated $267 million from programs that will be phased out as the national health care program takes over, she said.

Nebraskans have a long history of taking care of each other. We have a moral responsibility to provide these families with health care, she said.  

At least 18,000 low-income Lancaster County residents would be eligible for the expanded Medicaid program, Beutler said.

Medicaid provides "them with preventative health care, early diagnosis when more can be done to solve a health issue and the opportunity to go to the doctor without fearing they can't pay for the services they need," he said.

Nebraskans already pay federal taxes that will be used to expand Medicaid in other states, Beutler said.

"We do a huge injustice to our citizens by not using these funds to give them the ability to have health care.  

"How can we in good conscience pay for the Medicaid expansion in other states but refuse to expand it in our own?"

"Let's jettison the national debate and apply some common sense," said Beutler. "We need a pragmatic solution."

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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