Medicaid Expansion bill has some Nebraskans hopeful

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Updated: Tue, 21 Jan 2014 10:31:24 CST

Just last year a bill that would expand Medicaid in Nebraska was met with a halting fate.  The bill was filibustered on first reading and never came to a vote.  But now a new Medicaid expansion bill is giving hope to the Nebraskans it could help.

The governor has had the same message for years.

"We must not mortgage Nebraska's future by expanding Obamacare's medicaid program," said Governor Heineman in his State of the State address. 

Just this week in front of the legislature Governor Heineman made it clear, expanding Medicaid will mean less money for the state's education system.  But not everyone feels that way.

"We don't believe that it's a question of can we afford it or can we not. It's a question of, can we afford not to do this?" asked State Senator Kathy Campbell, District 25. 

Senator Campbell says expanding Medicaid for thousands of Nebraskans through her Wellness in Nebraska bill will cost the state roughly 71 million dollars from now until 2020. But she says it will bring more than 2 billion dollars back into the state.

But for the 54,000 Nebraskans who fall into the coverage gap, Medicaid expansion isn't about politics. For them, it's personal.

"The difference in health insurance and not having health insurance and access to healthcare is spectacular.  The greatest system in the world doesn't help if you can't get to it," said Todd Ruhter, who falls into the coverage gap. 

Todd Ruhter lives and works in Grand Island, but his job in the food industry doesn't offer him health benefits.

"I can work. I'm fine. I do not qualify for Medicaid. As it stands now," said Ruhter.

Too rich for Medicaid but too poor for subsidies through the Affordable Care Act.  Ruhter is just one of thousands of Nebraskans left without health insurance.

"And we are accessing health care at some point. We're just going to the emergency rooms. And we're just having bills we don't pay," he said.

Senator Campbell's Wellness in Nebraska plan combines straightforward Medicaid expansion with private insurance, wellness plans and incentives.  Not only giving Nebraskans like Ruhter access to healthcare, but allowing them to contribute.

"But if we're going to let this go to a place where I'm not insured and I'm not covered with no access to healthcare. It's all over. It's a done deal. Then I'm nothing more than a draw and a detriment to society in terms of cash value," said Ruhter. 

Ruhter will testify and share his story in front of the legislature's HHS committee in favor of Wellness in Nebraska in the coming weeks.