This week marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Medicaid program, a cornerstone of our American healthcare system.

For half a century, Medicaid has improved the lives of millions of Nebraskans by providing essential health coverage to those who need it most, while supporting Nebraska’s hospitals and clinics. As a catalyst for innovation, Medicaid has improved efficiency of our health care system here in the heartland.

Every day, you likely come into contact with someone who has been helped by Medicaid. Right now, Medicaid serves about 236,000 Nebraskans, one-sixth of our population. They are our friends, neighbors, parents, and grandparents. They’re people like Jody Faltys of Lincoln, who was disabled in an accident at the age of four. Thanks to treatments and care covered by Medicaid, Jody grew up, earned a college degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and lives a mostly independent life.

Medicaid also illustrates the fundamental American values of opportunity and equality for every child. Through coverage of prenatal care and health services for kids, Medicaid allows millions of American children to have a healthy start in life. Studies show that investing in early childhood health is an enormous factor in a child’s future educational and economic success, saving countless dollars in future public benefits spending.

Through the years, Medicaid has become an integral part of the bigger picture of our health delivery system. Many states have designed models of coordinated care for Medicaid clients that have been carried over to their health care system as a whole, providing more efficient care that leads to better health outcomes. It allows people to build relationships with doctors and treat health problems before they become expensive, hard to treat and in some cases deadly.

Medicaid is also a vital revenue source for Nebraska’s health care facilities and providers, including our state’s safety-net hospitals, emergency departments, public health centers, and nursing homes. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid is half the funding source for long-term care, primarily used by older adults. The vast majority of Medicaid dollars go to provide care for people with disabilities and the elderly. Congress recognizes the importance of Medicaid so much that it has never backed away from a Medicaid funding commitment.

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Simply put, Medicaid has been a life saver for 50 years. But, there is an opportunity to make further use of the program to ensure that every Nebraskan has the ability to see a doctor and that we can become the healthiest state in the nation. We have the option to expand Medicaid and cover nearly 74,000 working, low-income Nebraskans who aren’t currently eligible for Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance. Passage of the extension will allow more of our friends, family, and neighbors to go to the doctor’s office, the dentist, and the pharmacy. Covering these Nebraskans would be 90-percent funded by the federal government, bringing $2 billion of our taxes back home to strengthen our economy, families, and communities.

Medicaid’s 50th anniversary is a great time to reflect on the millions of lives that have been saved by making sure people can get health coverage. But it is also time to acknowledge that a healthier future is available to our state if we ensure that all Nebraskans have access to health coverage and take the steps necessary to make it happen.

Dr. Ali Khan is the Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Rebecca Gould is the Executive Director of Nebraska Appleseed.


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