LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman’s representatives once again will miss a discussion about the Medicaid expansion that is part of the federal health care overhaul.
Two top officials with the Department of Health and Human Services declined invitations to appear at a legislative hearing on the topic today. Thomas Pristow, director of children and family services, and Vivianne Chaumont, director of Medicaid and long-term care, both cited previous commitments.
Neither HHS nor the governor is making another representative available, despite a request by State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who is sponsoring the hearing.
Nordquist made the request in a letter to the governor last week. As of late Monday, Nordquist said, he had received no response.
“I find that a little odd,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we can’t have a serious dialogue about the implications and what the numbers are.”
Nordquist noted that in July, Heineman refused to send Chaumont to a legislative meeting on the health care overhaul. The governor, a fierce opponent of Medicaid expansion, said then that he wouldn’t send Chaumont because the meeting was with advocates who supported the expansion.
But Kathie Osterman, an HHS spokeswoman, said the two situations are different.
In this case, she said, Chaumont talked with legislative fiscal analysts on Monday since she can’t attend the hearing. She also responded to questions from Nordquist in a letter sent Monday, Osterman said.
Osterman said HHS isn’t sending another representative because Chaumont is the best person to talk about Medicaid expansion.
Heineman’s press secretary, Jen Rae Hein, said Monday that the governor had just received Nordquist’s letter. She referred questions to HHS.
Today’s hearing before the Appropriations and Health and Human Services Committees was originally intended to review the potential impact of the federal health care law on the state budget.
Heineman’s decision to let the federal government create a health insurance exchange for Nebraska limited the budget impact largely to issues surrounding Medicaid.
Under a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, states can choose whether to undertake the Medicaid expansion that is part of the federal law. The expansion would provide Medicaid coverage for all adults whose income does not exceed 133 percent of federal poverty guidelines — $14,856 for a single person or $25,390 for a family of three.
The expansion would make an estimated 93,500 uninsured Nebraskans eligible for the state-federal Medicaid program.
Currently only low-income parents and disabled adults can qualify for Medicaid in Nebraska, and the income cutoffs are well below 133 percent of the poverty line.
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