Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft and former Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial filed a lawsuit Tuesday attempting to block Nebraska's proposed Medicaid expansion initiative from reaching the general election ballot.

The lawsuit was filed in Lancaster County District Court after Medicaid expansion supporters completed a petition drive that appears to have gathered sufficient signatures to win a slot on the November ballot.

Tuesday's court action raises a number of claims that the petitions have failed to meet all legal requirements.

Responding to the lawsuit, Medicaid expansion campaign manager Meg Mandy said "this is clearly a desperate attempt to block the people's ability to voice their opinion on this issue and ensure affordable health care for 90,000 Nebraskans."

Brasch and Christensen are "two politicians who have failed to bring back $1 billion of Nebraska taxpayers' money and who have failed to find solutions for working Nebraskans to access health care," she said.

Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life, the organization that conducted the successful petition drive, said supporters are confident the initiative will appear on the ballot in November. 

Brasch, who is Nebraska's Republican national committeewoman, is listed as a plaintiff who is "opposed to the Medicaid expansion petition because of the negative impact it will have on property taxes in Nebraska."

Christensen is described as "concerned that if the Medicaid expansion petition proceeds, his son's existing benefits will be reduced or altered."

More than 133,000 Nebraskans have signed petitions to place the proposal on the November ballot. That figure appears to provide adequate cushion for the 84,268 valid signatures that would be required after a review by county election officials and a decision by Secretary of State John Gale.

The initiative proposal would extend Medicaid coverage to a pool of uninsured Nebraskans who are generally described as the working poor.

The lawsuit suggests a number of procedural, statutory and constitutional flaws that would render the initiative petition "invalid and legally insufficient," including a claim that language in the initiative seeks to "exercise legislative power specifically reserved to the executive branch."

The proposal would bring an estimated $1 billion in federal funding flowing into the state while requiring a state match that officials in the administration of Gov. Pete Ricketts have said would eventually accumulate to some $800 million over a 10-year period.

The Nebraskans who would be impacted do not qualify for Medicaid now, but cannot afford to purchase health care coverage on their own.

Supporters have argued that the infusion of federal funding would spur economic development and help secure the future of rural hospitals in Nebraska while treating health conditions before they spiral into serious health challenges that may result in far more expensive and uncompensated care. 

The Legislature has rejected a variety of Medicaid expansion proposals during each of the past seven years. Across the country, 33 states have approved Medicaid expansion.

The vast majority of current Medicaid recipients are children and the elderly.

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

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