Lawsuit seeks to keep Medicaid proposal off Nebraska ballot
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Opponents of a measure to expand Medicaid coverage in Nebraska filed a lawsuit Tuesday to try to keep the issue from appearing on the November general-election ballot.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of state Sen. Lydia Brasch, of Bancroft, and former state Sen. Mark Christensen, of Imperial. Both are Republicans who have opposed Medicaid expansion bills in the Legislature.
Supporters of expanded Medicaid announced last week that they had collected around 135,000 signatures in a statewide petition drive, well above the required minimum of 85,000 to place the issue before voters. The signatures still need to be verified, but officials with the Insure the Good Life campaign expressed confidence that voters will get to decide the issue.
The measure would provide health care coverage to an estimated 90,000 people, ages 19 to 64, who earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid but too little to be eligible for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act. Many residents who fall into the so-called coverage gap work in service jobs with no benefits, such as hotel, fast-food and construction workers.
Organizers of the petition drive vowed to fight the lawsuit.
“This is clearly a desperate attempt to block the people’s ability to voice their opinion on this issue and ensure affordable health care for 90,000 Nebraskans,” said Meg Mandy, campaign manager for the Insure the Good Life coalition. Petition signers “demanded this be on the ballot in November and we will fight for their right to vote and be heard.”
Some of the arguments in the lawsuit echo those made by Gov. Pete Ricketts — that the state’s cost of expanding Medicaid would crowd out other funding priorities. Christensen, whose son who receives Medicaid, alleges in the lawsuit that expanding coverage could lead to benefit reductions for current recipients.
Brasch, a Republican national committeewoman who is leaving office due to term limits, contends that she opposes expanding Medicaid because of the “negative impact it will have on property taxes in Nebraska,” but did not elaborate.
Christensen and Brasch did not immediately respond to phone messages.
Mandy said attorneys for her group were still reviewing the lawsuit, but she disputed the Christensen and Brasch’s arguments. Counties in states that expanded Medicaid have generally saved money because of the influx of new federal Medicaid dollars to their hospitals, which could end up reducing pressure on property taxes, she said. Mandy said many health care providers are already treating low-income patients without getting paid, and expanding Medicaid would help cover their services.
The lawsuit contends that the petition violates the Nebraska Constitution as well as a law that dictates how state money can be spent.
Specifically, it argues that the measure requires the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services develop a Medicaid expansion plan “with virtually no statutory guidance or limitations.” By delegating that power to an agency in the governor’s administration, instead of to lawmakers, the lawsuit alleges that the measure violates the Nebraska Constitution’s separation-of-powers clause.
It also contends that the petition contains two questions for voters — whether the state should expand Medicaid and whether state officials should take steps to ensure Nebraska gets as much federal Medicaid money as possible. Nebraska’s Constitution requires each ballot measure to contain only one issue.
Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte