LINCOLN | State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, of Omaha, on Monday called on Gov. Dave Heineman to forfeit his taxpayer-funded health insurance until all Nebraskans can get health coverage.
Nordquist also launched a petition at healthcarefairness.com to allow people to voice support for expanding health coverage and to send a message to the elected officials who are blocking the effort.
The message, Nordquist said, is this: “You should not get health coverage until all Nebraskans do.”
Heineman's office declined to comment, but he recently challenged Nordquist, who is pushing for Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, to call for a vote on the issue as soon as the legislative session begins in January.
Nordquist was among senators who supported a bill last session that would have expanded Medicaid for about 54,000 newly eligible adults, including those 19 to 64 who have no children and earn zero to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The bill was filibustered on first reading and never got a vote because supporters did not have enough support to end debate.
Medicaid offers coverage to low-income children, parents, pregnant women and seniors, as well as other disabled adults. Beginning in 2014, states may expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to low-income childless adults. The federal government has said it will pay 100 percent of the costs of the new recipients for three years, then 90 percent in 2020 and years after that.
Heineman has said he is dubious about the continued funding, and has said losing it would result in cuts in other areas, such as education.
Supporters of expansion say Nebraskans already were paying the costs of having about 180,000 uninsured Nebraskans who would be eligible either to buy insurance in the marketplace or qualify for Medicaid. Those costs include:
* Expensive emergency room care for unaddressed medical needs.
* Uncompensated care by hospitals and health care providers.
* Increases to everyone's medical bills and health insurance premiums.
* Lost productivity from employee illness.
* County general assistance funds for medical expenses, paid with property taxes.
Nordquist has vowed there will be a vote on the issue in the session that starts Jan. 8.
“All Nebraskans, regardless of where they live or the industry in which they work, should be able to see a doctor when they are sick,” Nordquist said. “While the governor has been blocking health coverage for low-income workers in our state, he has been enjoying generous taxpayer-funded health benefits.
"As long as Gov. Heineman stands in the way of health coverage for tens of thousands of low-income workers in our state, he should not continue to enjoy health coverage funded by the taxes those hardworking Nebraskans are paying.”
About 50,000 Nebraskans with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level are stuck in a coverage gap with no ability to afford health coverage. A person earning less than $12,000 per year or a single parent earning less than $16,000 per year are left with no coverage support.
Heineman, a Republican, has criticized the federal Affordable Care Act, which was a cornerstone of Democratic President Barack Obama's first campaign.
The health care law required states to establish health insurance exchanges to help people find affordable insurance. The federal government set up exchanges for states that did not.
Last year, Heineman decided to opt out of a Nebraska-based health insurance exchange and let the federal government handle it. He cited the high cost of putting together a state-based exchange and the lack of control the state would have in making decisions.