By Governor Pete Ricketts
Proponents of Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska are not giving up. This week, the Nebraska Legislature is scheduled to debate whether to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Since the last time I wrote about this issue two weeks ago, proponents of expansion released a study claiming that expanding Medicaid would be an economic boon for our state. Nebraskans, however, should not buy into claims that expansion of government entitlement programs are justified as something that “save(s), create(s) and support(s)” jobs. Nebraskans have never used subjective measures touting “saved” or “supported” jobs when determining the efficacy of entitlement expansions, and it would be irresponsible to begin doing so today.
History has shown that taking money from taxpayers and giving it to another group of individuals through an entitlement program does not result in real or sustainable economic development. If you could simply grow an economy through the transfer of wealth by government, poverty would not have existed under Soviet rule of Russia and our Federal Government could simply spend its way out of any recession. Expanding Medicaid will not result in the tax relief and good-paying jobs we need to grow Nebraska for the next generation.
Not only is the basis for Medicaid expansion flawed, but it would be an expensive burden for Nebraska taxpayers, adding an additional $158 million burden to the state budget and competing with other budget priorities like meaningful property tax relief or future roads funding. Today, Nebraska’s Medicaid program consumes $1.8 billion of the state’s total budget to serve about 238,000 people annually. This year, Medicaid makes up nearly 19% of total state spending. In 1979, it represented 2.9%. Just this past year, the Federal Government recalculated Nebraska’s Medicaid match rate, creating an additional $75 million that the State of Nebraska must pay just to maintain our existing Medicaid program. As you can see, our current Medicaid program is already costing Nebraska taxpayers more and more money.
Expanding Medicaid in Nebraska is a risky proposition for taxpayers not only because of the expense but also because we cannot trust the Federal Government’s long-term financial commitment to state programs. History has shown time and again that the federal government frequently makes promises of funding, and then scales back its commitment. The most recent example of this is the Federal Government’s decision to end its financial commitment to CoOportunity Health, a consumer operated and oriented plan which provided private health insurance coverage to thousands of Nebraskans. CoOportunity was started as a part of an initiative born out of Obamacare and partially funded with federal dollars. At the end of 2014, the Federal Government walked away from its commitment to CoOportunity, leaving the co-op insolvent and policyholders scrambling to find new coverage. If the Federal Government failed with CoOportunity, it would be unwise to depend on long-term funding for expanding our Medicaid program here in Nebraska.
Rather than depending on the Federal Government, let’s look for solutions here in Nebraska so that we can get more people covered by private insurance. Right now, we have many good jobs open around the state, many of which offer private health insurance benefits. This past week, I signed Executive Order #15-03 to create the State Workforce Development Board to bring together a broad range of stakeholders to provide state-level coordination and integration among federal and state workforce development programs. By leveraging current workforce development programs, we can connect more Nebraskans with open good-paying jobs that have the benefits they need rather than expanding entitlement programs. A recent analysis predicted that up to 45,000 Nebraskans who currently pay for private health insurance would trade their coverage for Medicaid under the proposed expansion. Any effort to connect Nebraskans with healthcare should avoid incentivizing people to drop private coverage.
With the approaching debate, it is important that your state senator hear your thoughts on this proposed expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. You can find all the information you need on how to contact your state senator about this important issue by visiting www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.