Medicaid expansion gets enough signatures to appear on Nebraska ballot

August 26, 2018

A proposal to expand Medicaid to about 90,000 low-income Nebraskans will be on the November general election ballot, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale announced Friday.

County election officials finished reviewing the 136,791 signatures submitted for the petition to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Of those, 104,477 signatures were certified as valid, for a 74 percent acceptance rate, Gale said. At least 84,269 valid signatures were required to get the measure on the ballot.

Signatures of more than 5 percent of registered voters were collected in 47 of the state’s 93 counties. Gale said this meets the distribution requirement of 38 counties for an initiative petition.

“After careful review by our counties, I can confirm that the statutory requirements for valid signatures have been met,” Gale said.

Gale said the measure will be on the ballot “barring an order from the district court handling the pending lawsuit that challenges the initiative petition.”

State Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft and former State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial filed a lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court in July, asking for the proposal to be declared “invalid and legally insufficient” and ordered off the ballot.

They argue, among other things, that the expansion proposal contains more than one subject, is in violation of the Nebraska Constitution and does not properly disclose the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest as a petition sponsor.

The case was filed shortly after leaders of Insure the Good Life submitted more than 135,000 signatures on the petition seeking to expand Medicaid.

District Judge Darla Ideus heard arguments in the case Monday and said she would decide the case as soon as possible. State officials must certify issues and candidates for the November ballot by Sept. 14.

“The people of Nebraska have well exceeded the requirements to place this issue on the November ballot, and they should get their opportunity to vote on it,” said Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life.

The proposal would cover single adults and couples without minor children who cannot qualify for Medicaid now, and would cover parents and disabled people at higher income levels than currently allowed.

If passed, Insure the Good Life said, Medicaid expansion would create new jobs, reduce medical bankruptcies and increase federal funding to the state.

More than two dozen states, including Iowa, have expanded their Medicaid programs since doing so was allowed by federal law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Gale’s announcement Friday was welcome news to advocacy groups backing the Medicaid expansion petition, including Nebraska Appleseed.

“Now, Nebraskans will be able to vote on expanding Medicaid in November to help 90,000 of our hardworking friends, neighbors, and co-workers get the health care they need,” said Nebraska Appleseed Executive Director Becky Gould.

Gould said the organization would continue to educate voters “to finally expand Medicaid to create a stronger economy and a healthier future for every Nebraskan.”

Jessica Shelburn, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said her group has serious concerns about what the expansion could do to the state’s budget and will spend the time leading up to Election Day cautioning voters about the expansion.

Shelburn said that based on what has happened in other states, there’s a reason to be concerned that more than the estimated 90,000 people would sign up, resulting in higher costs while the state also looks to provide quality education and property tax relief.

“The state will have to come up with that money somewhere,” Shelburn said.

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ re-election campaign spokesman has indicated that the governor, who has opposed Medicaid expansion, would take a more hands-off approach if the Medicaid expansion measure made the ballot.

On Friday, Matthew Trail, the spokesman, said the governor is focused on his own campaign.

State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, the Democrat challenging the governor, supports the expansion.

“Unlike Gov. Ricketts, I fully support and will vote ‘YES’ to provide healthcare to over 90,000 hard-working vulnerable Nebraskans who are currently unable to afford healthcare of their own,” Krist tweeted about Medicaid expansion.

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