Gov’s ideas to cut Medicaid face opposition


February 5th, 2011

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Gov. Heineman's proposals to save Medicaid funds ran into opposition at the Capitol

Lincoln, NE – Gov. Dave Heineman wants to make significant changes to who’s entitled to received Medicaid benefits. His proposals ran into some opposition in a public hearing this week.

The governor wants to eliminate health and welfare benefits for legal immigrants who have been in the country for less than five years, and are not yet citizens. He also wants to drop medical benefits for people who fail to cooperate with welfare requirements. And, he wants to create or increase co-pays for Medicaid services.

All told, the measures would save the state more than $11 million over the next two years. Nearly $8 million of that would be saved by not offering food stamps, welfare, or aid to the aged, blind and disabled, as well as the new limits on benefits for legal immigrants.

Todd Reckling of the Department of Health and Human Services said the governor did not make that recommendation lightly, but thought those services had lower priority than other social spending. Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard asked Reckling if discontinuing Medicaid coverage for noncitizens might not simply shift costs to others.

“If something happened to this individual and they had to go to the hospital, who would then pay the medical costs?” Howard asked. Reckling responded, “It would be just like any other person that didn’t have medical coverage… If it’s an emergency, they have to be treated at the hospital.”

The Nebraska Appleseed Center, which advocates for low income people, opposed the bill. It also opposed the proposal to take Medicaid benefits away from people who fail to cooperate with welfare requirements. That would reverse a victory that Appleseed won in the state Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the Legislature had said welfare benefits could be taken away, but not Medicaid. Advocates also opposed the bill to create or increase co-pays. They said that as the bill stands, it allows the Department of Health and Human Services make wide-ranging changes in other areas without legislative oversight. The committee took no immediate action on any of the proposals.

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