The Nebraska Supreme Court last month cleared the way for a citizen-driven proposal that would expand access to Medicaid to appear on the November ballot, marking a procedural victory for pro-expansion supporters and committees as they get ready for Election Day.
Insure the Good Life is one committee pushing for adoption of Initiative 427, which would expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans making less than $17,000 a year in jobs that don’t offer health insurance.
“Our job is to educate the voters,” said Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life. “We’re answering a lot of questions on what Medicaid is, who will be covered and all the economic benefits it comes with.”
Opponents of Insure the Good Life say Medicaid expansion would be difficult for the state to afford, and despite its good intentions wouldn’t necessarily improve health care. Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said the proposal “would make a bad problem worse” in a “broken” Medicaid system.
Mandy said politicians opposed to Medicaid expansion “are trying to make a game of people’s health care.”
“People are frustrated that the legislature over the last six years failed to listen to them,” Mandy said, referring to failed efforts to get Nebraska lawmakers to expand access to Medicaid.
“That’s why we were able to get so many signatures” she said.
The expansion initiative would amend the state’s Medicaid law to offer health coverage to adult Nebraskans whose income is 138% of the poverty line, or families who don’t make enough money to qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
If the ballot measure passes, the federal government would cover 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion with the state paying 10%.
According to a Nebraska Legislative Fiscal Office projection, the state would pay $19.8 million in 2020 with the federal funds paying nearly $343 million. In 2021, the projected state share would be $32.2 million and the federal share would be nearly $444 million.
In July, Insure the Good Life submitted to the Secretary of State more than 130,000 signatures in support of Medicaid expansion, much more than the 80,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. Mandy said Insure the Good Life had enough signatures to turn in the petition weeks in advance.
“We took every last-minute opportunity we had to inform people on Medicaid,” Mandy said. “It’s great that there are people in all 93 of Nebraska’s counties who agree the citizens should decide on this matter.”
Insure the Good Life reported spending nearly $1.23 million as of July 31, according to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The biggest chunk of that money, more than $1.07 million, came from the Fairness Project, a ballot-initiative group headquartered in Washington, D.C., the report showed.
A spokesperson for the Fairness Project said the organization has a positive track record of supporting winning ballot measures in various states and will do whatever steps needed to “take direct action” in passing expanded Medicaid. The Fairness Project donated funds to supporters in Maine for Medicaid expansion on its 2017 ballot. It was voted into law last November. This election cycle, the Fairness Project is contributing to Medicaid expansion efforts in Idaho, Montana and Utah, along with Nebraska.
Local donations to Insure the Good Life also come from Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Health Center Association of Nebraska, Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations and the Nebraska State Education Association.
“These are people have seen all this at first hand and why they are supporting us and our work,” Mandy said. Mandy said Medicaid expansion is popular among state residents because it doesn’t fall along partisan or regional lines.
“Republicans need affordable health care just like Democrats need affordable health care,” she said, “and people in Scottsbluff and Chadron need health care just like they do in Lincoln and Omaha.”
Going forward, Mandy said Insure the Good Life will continue on the road informing the public about Medicaid. “It’s uplifting hearing stories from citizens on how Medicaid will help them and we’re looking forward to sharing their stories to other voters across Nebraska all the way up until November.”
Parker Cyza of Alliance is a senior broadcasting and journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.