Supporters argued that avoiding the Medicaid expansion would deprive the state of millions of dollars in federal matching funds to help cover the newly insured residents. The federal government has promised to pay 100 percent of the state's costs from 2014 through 2016.
The federal contribution would then ratchet down over a four-year period. By 2020, the federal government would cover 90 percent of the costs while Nebraska picks up the remaining 10 percent.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said the avoiding the expansion would deprive the state of federal matching dollars, paid by Nebraskans and others, that will go to other states. Krist, a Republican, pointed to recent support from GOP governors Jan Brewer of Arizona, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Susana Martinez of New Mexico.
"The time has passed to debate the merits of the act," Krist said. "The only debate or question left is whether the leadership in this state allows the federal government to keep our health care cash money, or seize the opportunities and bring those monies back to care for Nebraskans."
Nordquist also introduced a bill Wednesday that would take $23 million annually in savings from the first three years, and transfer it to a separate health care access fund. Lawmakers could then tap the fund to cover its share of the Medicaid costs for when the federal contribution starts to decline.
Lawmakers have lined up a series of groups to support the measure, including Nebraska counties, hospitals, retiree and doctor organizations and advocates for the poor.
The bill "is a tremendous step toward ensuring the future health of Nebraskans," said Rebecca Gould, director of the public-interest group Nebraska Appleseed. She called it "our opportunity to make a smart investment in our state's economy and workforce, to make our state's health system stronger and more cost-effective, and to ensure hard-working Nebraskans will be healthier by getting the medical care they need."