Heineman vetoes lead testing, nursing home tax

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April 27th, 2011

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*Update: Lawmakers easily overrode Heineman’s veto of the nursing home bill Thursday morning. On a vote of 44-0, lawmakers said the legislation would increase Medicaid reimbursements to nursing home residents, while Heineman said it simply amounts to a tax hike.

Lincoln, NE – State senators are headed for showdowns with Governor Dave Heineman over two bills he vetoed.

The governor vetoed a bill to require children have their blood lead level tested before entering school, and another to tax nursing homes in order to attract more federal dollars. In both cases, the sponsors of the legislation say they’ll try to override the vetoes. In his letter vetoing the lead testing bill, Heineman called it “overly broad.” He said screening should be focused on the highest risk populations, and expressed concern about increased testing costs for parents or guardians.

But Omaha Senator Brenda Council, who introduced the bill, said it contains exceptions from the testing requirement for those whose doctors certify they’re at low risk. She said the cost would be only about $17, and many counties help pay for tests. And she said testing and early identification of children with high blood lead levels could produce savings in the long run.

Senator Brenda Council says checking children's blood lead levels would help save the state in future costs. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“The intent of my legislation is to intervene as early as possible,” she said, “and perhaps eliminate the possibility that the child will be forever placed in special education programs, or misdiagnosed or determined to be a behavioral problem rather than an academic development problem.”

Council’s bill passed last week with 30 votes, exactly the number she’d need to override the governor’s veto. She said she’s asked for the override vote to be scheduled next Monday or Tuesday.

The other bill Heineman vetoed was one to tax nursing homes. Under federal law, the extra revenue would be matched by more federal dollars, and the money would then be turned back over to the nursing homes to help meet the cost of caring for Medicaid patients.

In his veto letter, the governor said the national deficit commission had recommended elimination of the practice. When that happens, he said, the state would have to pay almost $19 million a year to replace the money that would be lost. Lincoln Senator Kathy Campbell, who introduced the bill, acknowledged federal funds could dry up. But she said senators have made it clear nursing homes should not expect the state to make up the difference if that happens. And Campbell said there’s another good reason for her bill:

“We also want to encourage our facilities across the state to take Medicaid patients,” she said. “This somewhat evens that field in which a nursing facility would say ‘well, I can’t afford to take Medicaid anymore.’ With this program they may say ‘Yes I can, and I’ll continue to take those Medicaid patients,’ and not ‘put all the load on the private pay.’”

Campbell’s bill passed on final reading on a vote of 44-1. The override vote has been scheduled for Thursday.

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