The spots by Americans United for Change contrast Gov. Dave Heineman's (R) request for a new $3.3 million state plane with his refusal to pay the state's relatively minor share of the cost to expand Medicaid.
A bipartisan bill to expand Medicaid and cover an additional 54,000 Nebraskans is pending in the legislature, but it is several votes short of the 33 needed to break a procedural hurdle. The 33 votes would also be enough to override a veto if Heineman were to reject the measure.
"Gov. Heineman says he needs a new private plane to do his job," says the ad, which targets reluctant GOP state senators in districts where many constituents would benefit from the expansion. "The price tag? $3.3 million, courtesy of the Nebraska taxpayers. Heineman says Nebraska can afford to fly him around in style –- but then says we can’t afford to expand Medicaid to keep our rural hospitals from going under."
The comparison to the cost of the plane may not be entirely fair, since the legislature shares the blame for the cost of the plane and for holding up the expansion.
But the larger point is true. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Nebraska would have to increase its Medicaid spending by about 1.8 percent over the next decade, spending an extra $25 million or so a year, while the federal government would kick in more than $3 billion. And there would be no additional cost to the state for the first three years.
Groups representing rural hospitals in Nebraska warn that without expanding Medicaid, many hospitals could be in danger of failing. And county lawmakers note that counties (and therefore local taxpayers) are required to pay for the cost of uncovered medical care.
At a hearing last month on the bill to expand Medicaid, Lancaster County Commissioner Deb Schorr said her county pays $2.1 million a year in general medical assistance and $700,000 for community mental health services. Or, a little less than the cost of a plane for the governor.
The ads serve two functions. They're designed to help more people get health insurance, but as red states begin embrace the non-partisan aspects of the Affordable Care Act, they also take some of the sting out of purely partisan attacks on President Barack Obama's signature law.