Kolowski Plan Would Give Legislature Periodic Review of Costs
Teachers know that a child who is sick and lacks access to adequate health care either comes to school sick, or doesn’t come to school at all. In either case, illness compromises that child’s ability to learn.
Now, life-long educator and Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski has written to education stakeholders in Nebraska seeking support for a second effort to have the Legislature approve LB577, which would expand Medicaid in Nebraska.
Although opponents allege that Medicaid expansion will cost the state – and result in cuts to education – Kolowski calls that a “false choice.” He says savings in other social programs will offset the state’s cost of Medicaid expansion.
“I, and many of my colleagues, firmly believe that we can prioritize investments in the health of our citizenry and the education of our children at the same time,” wrote Kolowski.
Also proposed in Kolowski’s letter is an opportunity for the legislature to re-assess the decision to participate in the program should federal funding fall below the promised 90 percent cost of expansion. Kolowski said that should ease the minds of those who believe the state cannot afford the cost.
The federal government has pledged to pay 100 percent of the costs of expansion for the first three years, and 90 percent thereafter. Some officials believe the state’s 10 percent share is too costly, or that the federal share will fall below 90 percent.
The fiscal note on LB577, however, indicates the state’s cost through fiscal year 2019-20 at $57 million. The fiscal note projects savings to state social programs during that time at $84 million.
NSEA supports Medicaid expansion.
Legislation to expand Medicaid faced stiff opposition from the governor and a small band of senators in 2013. A majority of 49 senators supported LB577, but support did not rise to the 33 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. LB57 supporters have said some opponents have encouraged continued work on the bill’s passage.
Kolowski outlined his proposals in a letter distributed in late December.
“Working in education, we have seen firsthand how a child’s ability to learn is impaired when the child regularly brings unmet health needs to the classroom,” wrote Kolowski. “In a similar way, a parent’s inability to access the health care they need can detrimentally affect their ability to work, support their families, and care for their children.”
Kolowski said too many low-income, working parents fall into a coverage gap created when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Medicaid expansion is an option for states. Those within that gap earn too much for the current Medicaid program, but too little to receive federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska would cover much of that gap.
“Unfortunately, some state leaders continue to present a false choice between supporting health coverage for low-income working families and funding our state’s education system,” wrote Kolowski.
High School Principal
Kolowski noted that the state now pays millions for the health care of uninsured Nebraskans through a multitude of safety net programs. For example, the state spends $25 million each year on a program to subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. An ACA provision that ensures coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions eliminates the need for that program.
The state spends another $75 million each year, said Kolowski, on a behavioral health safety net system. While the program will still exist, giving low-income citizens access to insurance costs will markedly reduce the need.
Kolowski retired as a high school principal at Millard. It is a priority of his to implement policy that supports families, builds stronger communities and better schools.
“To build a better future for our children, there are no better investments than the education and health of our citizens,” he wrote.
The Facts: Medicaid Expansion
- An estimated 2,185 K-12 school employees in Nebraska would be eligible for health insurance under expansion.
- Medicaid expansion would cost the state about $57 million over the next seven years.
- Savings, however, in existing state safety net programs would total as much as $141 million.
- Medicaid expansion would bring more than $580 million into the state’s economy in this biennium.
- The State of Kentucky approved Medicaid expansion, and independent estimates believe expansion will create nearly 17,000 jobs in that state alone.