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Medicaid Expansion Saves Both Lives And Money

One of the most important features of Health Care Reform is that it will expand States' Medicaid programs. Under the law, the U.S. government will cover 100% of the cost for states to expand their Medicaid programs, scaling that back to 90% by 2020. (Currently, the U.S. government pays an average of 57% of the cost of the Medicaid health program.) However, the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Health Care Reform case gives States the right to opt out of that law's Medicaid expansion.

Unfortunately, Governor Dave Heineman seems inclined to opt out of Health Care Reform's Medicaid expansion - even though he hasn't made a final decision on the issue. Heineman has contended that Nebraska "can't afford an unfunded Medicaid expansion" and he said the expansion would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Once again, Heineman pitted one group of Nebraskans against another by claiming that Medicaid expansion would cause cuts in education funding.

As usual, as on most issues, Heineman is wrong. A recent analysis from Arkansas indicates that Medicaid expansion would save that state $372 million in the first six years. The savings would come from additional federal money, more compensation to health care providers for indigent care, and potential new state revenues from the financial boost that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal fund would inject into Arkansas' economy. In my opinion, there is no reason not to expect a similar result here in Nebraska.

Medicaid expansion would not only save money - it would also save lives. According to a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine and Harvard University indicates that Medicaid expansion may end up saving thousands of lives. This study found a 6 percent drop in the adult death rate in Arizona, Maine and New York, three states that have recently expanded coverage for low-income residents along the general lines of the federal health care law. This study also found that for every 176 adults covered under expanded Medicaid, one death per year would be prevented. "Policymakers should be should be aware that major changes in Medicaid - either expansions or reductions in coverage - may have significant effects on the health of vulnerable populations," wrote the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

What this means then is that the Medicaid expansion in Health Care Reform is a win-win proposition for Nebraska. It is obvious that Heineman is ignorant of the policy ramification of Health Care Reform's Medicaid expansion and that he is playing politics - again. Heineman has a history of pandering to the worst instincts of the base of his party and seems to be uninterested in actual governing and policy making. The Governor is all about partisanship and rarely exercises any real leadership. He might as well be back in his old job of executive director of the Nebraska GOP.

What this means for us Democrats is that we need to elect more State Senators this fall who share our values - Nebraska values. There are a lot of open seat Legislative races in districts that have been held by the Republicans. If we elect more Democratic State Senators we can muster up the necessary 30 votes to override Heineman's inevitable veto of a Medicaid expansion bill. This is a very realistic goal since Heineman is now a lame duck and the Legislature voted to restore taxpayer funding for prenatal health-care benefits for undocumented immigrants over Heineman's veto earlier this year. Now let's get to work!

Dennis Crawford is our newly elected 2nd Associate Chair. He will begin serving his term on the NDP's executive board at the first State Central Committee meeting following November's election. Thank you to Dennis for his contribution to the NDP's blog.


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