The simple fact is everyone in Nebraska is going to get sick at some time in their life and require medical care. But, not all Nebraskans are able to afford the cost of a trip to the doctor.
The purpose of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to make health care more accessible (through consumer protections and changes in the insurance market) and more affordable (through tax credits and a focus on prevention).
In an effort to accomplish those goals, the Affordable Care Act requires states to set up an insurance exchange: an online marketplace where Americans can go to shop for plans that are not only affordable, but offer good benefits to consumers. To make sure that each health insurance plan offered in the exchange offers a good level of care, the law created 10 “Essential Health Benefits,” that each plan in the exchange must provide.
The state of Nebraska has several opportunities along the way to shape this system to give the best value and best care for Nebraskans. One of the first big decisions was to choose a Nebraska insurance plan that would be a benchmark for those 10 Essential Health Benefits. Other insurers would have that model for the 10 Essential Health Benefits in their plans. Unfortunately, the plan chosen by the state does not provide any detailed guidance on all 10 Essential Health Benefits and has such high deductibles that it will be unaffordable for the vast majority of Nebraskans. This was a missed opportunity.
But, Nebraska has even more important opportunities ahead to improve health insurance coverage for people in this state. In November, Nebraska will lay out a plan for an exchange which is the best opportunity to make sure the private insurance market is easy to understand, allows people to buy insurance that actually gives them value for their premium dollar, and gives people access to tax credits to afford insurance.
And the biggest opportunity we can’t miss is the chance to create a new program to provide health insurance to at least 70,000 uninsured Nebraskans.
This program is a good deal for our state and will grow the economy and create jobs. A recent University of Nebraska Medical Center report found the new Medicaid program would return $2.5 billion dollars to our state. The report also found these dollars would generate significant economic activity that would create and sustain tens of thousands of jobs in Nebraska. An improved Medicaid system would be particularly important to rural doctors and hospitals, which rely on Medicaid and Medicare for much of their revenue.
It is also the right thing to do for our working families who struggle without coverage and can’t take their family to the doctor when they need it.
It is important to remember this law provides Nebraska with an opportunity to do right by our low- and middle-income working people by giving us a chance to build a system that provides value for our premium dollars. We cannot waste this chance.
Nebraskans deserve a health care system that works for all Nebraskans, keeps our workforce healthy, grows our economy and demands accountability.
Jennifer Carter is director of Nebraska Appleseed’s Health Care Access Program.
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