Jan 11, 2021 1:20 PM

Officials Urged: Get more Nebraskans health coverage during pandemic

Posted Jan 11, 2021 1:20 PM
Medicaid has provided health-care coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Nebraskans, helping children in Nebraska succeed in school. (Pixabay)
Medicaid has provided health-care coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Nebraskans, helping children in Nebraska succeed in school. (Pixabay)

From Nebraska News Connection

By Eric Galatas

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Health advocates are working with the new Legislature and state agencies to strengthen and streamline Nebraska's Medicaid program.

A recent Nebraska Appleseed report includes recommendations for getting more eligible Nebraskans to sign up for and keep health coverage during the global pandemic.

Sarah Maresh, health-care access staff attorney with the group, said there are also administrative tweaks agencies can make to ensure the program, which she calls vital for the state's physical and economic wellbeing, is running as efficiently as possible.

"It provides health coverage to thousands of Nebraskans who would not otherwise have health coverage," Maresh explained. "It not only supports the health and wellbeing of Nebraskans but it also supports our workforce and health systems and economy."

More than one in ten Nebraskans get health coverage through Medicaid, and 65% of participants are children.

Nebraska voters approved expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2018, but the program didn't officially launch until almost two years later.

As of Dec. 1, some 22,000 Nebraskans were enrolled in Medicaid expansion. Maresh noted nearly 68,000 more Nebraskans are estimated to be eligible for coverage.

When people don't have health coverage, Maresh observed they're less likely to get primary care, and patients with untreated conditions are more likely to turn to costly emergency-room visits.

She contended Medicaid also is critical for keeping hospital doors open, especially in the state's rural areas, by compensating providers when patients can't pay for care.

"When someone goes into the doctor, if they don't have health insurance, if they don't have Medicaid coverage, and they're not able to pay those bills, the provider ends up oftentimes eating those costs," Maresh warned.

Maresh added one big barrier to getting more Nebraskans health coverage could be eliminated by reducing paperwork.

If state and federal agencies shared eligibility data, it would be easier to get people seeking food, housing or utility assistance enrolled in Medicaid.

If someone you know lacks health coverage, assistance with enrollment is available at enroll-ne.org.