Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell and a bipartisan group of 21 senators gathered Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda to reassure Nebraskans who favor expanding Medicaid they will continue to work on the task.
"One of the major questions that I've been asked is, 'Are we back to square one with Medicaid expansion?'" she said.
"And I would say, 'Not hardly.'"
The bill (LB577) that would expand Medicaid coverage to uninsured Nebraskans was stymied during this session by a filibuster and rumors that 17 senators had signed a pledge to keep the bill from getting to an up or down vote.
Thirty-three votes are needed to break a filibuster. Campbell and other supporters couldn't gather that number after more than 10 hours of debate and so moved on.
Although the number continues to shift, Campbell confirmed that proponents have not gathered even the 30 votes required to override a sure veto of the bill should it pass.
An informal count by the Journal Star several weeks ago showed 29 senators would vote to break the filibuster. Ten said they would not vote for cloture, five had no comment and five said they were undecided or were not willing to say.
Campbell said some of the senators who would have voted no on the bill or no on cloture are the same who have said they are willing to listen to information that comes from the interim study.
Opponents of the bill at the time of the debate said it would expand entitlements. And it appeared Medicaid expansion would lead to a cliff and then into a financial black hole.
They said the state needed more time to explore the issue and its long-term budget, economic and health implications. It was best, they said, to stop a debate that was unresolved so senators could move on to other weighty issues before the end of the session.
Campbell said a solid network of advocacy groups, associations and individuals will go forward and provide education on the issue.
In the next six months, they will study the number of people who will be covered, the economic impact and expansion plans of other states.
"Medicaid expansion still is the right option and affords the best opportunity to serve 54,000 uninsured Nebraskans," Campbell told those gathered in the Rotunda.
A majority of senators supports LB577, she said, and know it's the right thing to do for families and the state's economy.
Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said expansion would bring federal dollars to the state to create jobs and additional tax revenue.
"Without expansion, we're exposing Nebraska employers to penalties under the Affordable Care Act," he said.
And over the years, the state could face more than $1 billion in uncompensated care for uninsured patients, he said.
"I believe that through discussions this interim, we will convince a super majority of our legislative body to support Medicaid expansion," Nordquist said.
As senators start to hear about medical jobs being lost in their communities and as Nebraskans learn about the coverage they would be missing out on, senators may begin to shift their views on expansion, the senators said.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Heath Mello said the cost to the state of expansion over a seven-year period would be a little more than $60 million.
"It is not a fiscal shipwreck for the state," he said. "The bigger question people need to be asking is, 'What's the financial impact for the state by not doing this?'"
Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue said the Legislature has passed supporting legislation to ensure the Affordable Care Act rolls out in Nebraska as smoothly as possible and works well here.
"This is the one missing piece," she said.
Bills have ensured the Department of Insurance is in the driver's seat for approving insurance plans, a commission will be watching health insurance exchanges, navigators will be registered to help people sign up for insurance and an appeals process is in place if someone is denied.