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Omaha heavyweights back health care plan
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Omaha heavyweights back health care plan

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Omaha corporate and philanthropic heavyweights Walter Scott and Mike Yanney are attempting to rally business support for a proposal to purchase private health care insurance for the working poor in Nebraska with untapped federal Medicaid dollars.

The pair have sent letters to a range of big-name corporate leaders in Omaha inviting them to a briefing by state Sens. Kathy Campbell, John McCollister and Heath Mello at the Omaha Country Club on Jan. 20.

Their letter describes the new proposal to access federal Medicaid dollars available to Nebraska under the Affordable Care Act as "a unique, market-driven model" that would provide eligible uninsured Nebraskans with access to transitional health care insurance.

That, in turn, would help lift the burden for Nebraska's health care providers and employers who now supply $1 billion of uncompensated care every year, the letter states.

"As you know, health care is a major industry that impacts our entire work force from Fortune 500 companies to small, family-owned employers," Scott and Yanney wrote.

Support from Omaha's corporate leadership could be a game-changer in terms of helping acquire legislative votes for the new proposal and presumably could have some influence on Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who so far is cool to the plan.

Turning to the private health care insurance market rather than simply expanding Medicaid in Nebraska is a fundamentally Republican solution to the health care coverage challenge, McCollister said Thursday.

McCollister, an Omaha Republican, will introduce the bill within the next few days. He led an effort to build support for the new plan following adjournment of the 2015 legislative session, traveling to meetings in 10 communities stretching from Omaha to Alliance.

The fiscal impact on state government will be considerably less than the original $59 million estimate over a five-year period once a new fiscal analysis is completed, he said. 

"Before I offered to sponsor the bill, I needed some indication of business acceptance," McCollister said. "This is a business-friendly solution."

Campbell, a Lincoln Republican and chairwoman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, has been the leading figure in the long effort to acquire the additional Medicaid dollars available to Nebraska under Obamacare. 

Mello, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is an Omaha Democrat and the Legislature's leading fiscal voice.

As the veterans in this battle, they'll lead the floor debate, McCollister said. 

McCollister said it was business support that ultimately propelled his 2015 bill to authorize issuance of Nebraska driver's licenses to young immigrants who primarily came to the United States with their undocumented parents and who now are protected from deportation by President Barack Obama's executive action.

"Once business groups joined the fray, that changed the dynamics," he said. "I'm hoping to emulate that same process."

The health-care insurance proposal would provide coverage for an estimated 77,000 Nebraskans, most of them low-income workers, who slipped through the crack in Obamacare opened by the U.S. Supreme Court when it allowed individual states to opt out of expanded Medicaid.

More than $2 billion in federal funding would be available to the state over the next five years. An estimated 10,000 new jobs could be created.

The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs through 2016, phasing down gradually to a 90 percent floor by 2020.

Rural hospitals in Nebraska would be strengthened by the program, McCollister said.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center, a major economic driver in Omaha, estimated in a 2012 study that the additional Medicaid dollars would generate at least $700 million in new economic activity in the state every year.

McCollister said it is somewhat ironic that Nebraska, along with a number of other states with Republican governors, is now considering how to take advantage of the health care expansion dollars available under Obamacare just as the Congress has laid a bill to repeal the law on the president's desk.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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