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Nebraska Voters Could Be the Next to Override GOP Resistance to Medicaid Expansion

Nicole Knight

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said Friday his office had certified 104,477 signatures, more than enough for Medicaid expansion to appear on statewide ballots.

Nebraska voters in November will decide whether to expand Medicaid, making the state the latest to bypass Republican lawmakers and attempt to boost health-care coverage via the ballot box.

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said Friday his office had certified 104,477 signatures, more than enough for Medicaid expansion to appear on statewide ballots, as Associated Press reported.

Nebraska now joins Utah and Idaho, states with GOP-held legislatures, where voters will weigh in on Medicaid expansion in November. Montana voters in November also will decide whether to extend the state’s Medicaid expansion beyond a 2019 cutoff.

“It’s part of a movement to expand and protect health care and it’s the most powerful force in American politics today,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, that funds and organizes in support of voter initiatives for progressive issues, like the one in Nebraska.

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“If the past year has taught us one thing, it’s that Americans want more, not less health care—and they’re willing to fight for it,” he told Rewire.News.

Maine voters last year agreed to Medicaid expansion, although Republican Gov. Paul LePage has so far thwarted its rollout.

The organizers behind Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion measure say around 90,000 low-income Nebraskans would gain health insurance coverage under the proposal. Those qualifying would be adults under age 65 who make less than $17,000 a year.

Nebraska is among only 14 states that have not adopted Medicaid expansion. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) argued that expanding Medicaid in the state would divert money from other programs and saddle the state budget with a $158 million tax burden. But a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that Medicaid expansion was not a drain on state services. “Medicaid expansion has not diverted coverage from traditional groups or significantly reduced state spending on other programs,” the Kaiser report noted.

Under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the federal government would pick up at least 90 percent of the cost of the additional coverage, while the state would bear the rest.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Nebraska measure expanding health-care coverage are seeking to block it in court. Attorneys this week asked a Lancaster County district court judge to find the initiative “invalid and legally insufficient,” as the Omaha World-Herald reported. A decision in the case is expected shortly.

A recent analysis by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that expanding Medicaid in every state would cut the country’s uninsured rate by around one-quarter. Research suggests Medicaid expansion increased access to care and recipients’ financial security, and showed a positive association between expansion and health outcomes.

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