Omaha World-Herald. Feb. 19, 2021.
Editorial: Nebraska officials must end the uncertainties about Medicaid expansion
We mentioned earlier this week about the public’s need for certainty in regard to COVID vaccination. That same obligation for clarity and stability applies to Medicaid expansion in Nebraska.
The path toward expansion of health coverage to Nebraska’s working poor has been bumpy and uncertain for years. This month, federal regulators raised question marks about the series of requirements Nebraska has set for people to receive full Medicaid coverage. That’s a switch from the Trump administration, which cleared the way for the requirements.
If that remains the federal government’s stance, and it certainly appears that will be the case, Nebraska should move forward with full Medicaid coverage for those eligible. It’s way past time for Nebraska to end the uncertainty that’s long surrounded this program.
Medicaid expansion, after all, was approved through a statewide vote of the people in November 2018, receiving 53% approval. The vote required Nebraska to expand its Medicaid program as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. Those newly eligible were working-age adults without disabilities whose incomes fall below 138% of the federal poverty level. That is equal to $16,753 for a single person or $34,638 for a family of four. The proposal, supported editorially by our newspaper, aimed to extend health coverage to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans.
In the wake of the 2018 vote, the Ricketts administration took two years to implement Medicaid expansion and adopted a two-tier system by which people would need to meet various work and community engagement requirements in order to receive full coverage. That approach spurred complaint from many Nebraskans, who emphasized that such a tiered system wasn’t part of the 2018 vote.
“We did not vote for a two-tiered system, work and wellness requirements, and changes to retroactive eligibility,” Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, wrote during a public comment period about the proposed policy. “Please honor the will of the citizens of Nebraska.” Khan is a former assistant surgeon general with the U.S. Public Health Service.
Under the Nebraska Constitution, a decision directly taken by the people carries particular weight in the governance of the state. The Constitution underscores that point by making it quite difficult for the Legislature to overturn any decision made via voter initiative or referendum — a two-thirds majority is required.
In other words, elected state officials must show particular deference to the people’s decision.
The latest uncertainty in Nebraska’s Medicaid approach came this month when the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid told the state’s Medicaid officials that the agency is looking to withdraw approval for a state plan requiring that low-income, working-age adults work, volunteer or do other specified activities for 80 hours a month to get full benefits. Nebraska’s policy raises “serious concerns,” wrote Elizabeth Richter, acting administrator for the federal agency.
Nebraska officials will respond to Richter’s letter, but the language she employed clearly indicates that federal approval of a two-tiered system is unlikely under the Biden administration.
Medicaid expansion has been marked by more than enough uncertainties. Nebraska officials should prepare to move forward, clearly and efficiently, to provide full coverage to those who qualify.
McCook Gazette. Feb. 19, 2021.
Editorial: Ranked-choice voting should get a fair hearing
Nebraska statehouse reporters feel obligated to point out that our one-house Legislature is “officially” nonpartisan, but political affiliations have never been a secret.
As a result, despite George W. Norris’ best intentions in furthering the spirit on nonpartisanship, Nebraskans often are left with an either-or, lesser-of-two-evils choice in the ballot box.
Sen. John McCollister of Omaha is offering an alternative he said would reduce partisanship, produce better candidates and give voters confidence their votes aren’t wasted.
Under the bill, LB125, voters would note on a ballot their most-preferred candidate, second-most preferred and so on for all candidates. It would apply for governor, Congress and the Legislature if at least three candidates are on the ballot.
“Voters should be able to vote for candidates they support, not just against candidates they oppose,” Kimberly Jones of Bellevue told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday in support of McCollister’s bill, which she said would also encourage third-party candidates.
The committee took no action on the bill, and many other bills are likely to take priority, but Nebraskans should give the idea serious consideration.
Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, president of Rank The Vote Nebraska, said ranked-choice voting discourages negative campaigning and creates more opportunity for women and non-white candidates.
“We want better choices. We want better candidates, better ideas,” Maxwell-Ostdiek said.
Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively said changing voting procedures could lead to voter confusion, delay election results and double the cost of printing ballots.
“We spend an enormous amount of time testing the ballots to go through the machines to make sure all the ovals are accurately counted,” Shively said. “This would (add) some additional time.”
In general, proponents of ranked-choice voting say it promotes majority support of the winning candidate, discourages negative campaigning, lets voters cast their ballots for candidates they truly feel is best and saves money compared to running primary elections.
It also provides an outcome more reflective of the majority of voters rather than extremes on either end of the political spectrum.
Opponents worry about abandoning the current system, say it would be hard to educate voters about the new system, and would complicate counting.
Primaries help weed out unsuitable candidates, and you could still fail to get a candidate with a majority, opponents say.
Still, proponents point to examples where ranked-choice voting has resulted in better turnout and greater voter satisfaction because of less negative campaigning.
The pandemic has forced Nebraskans to adapt to changes we never would have believed had we not lived through it.
A few changes to help elect officials who more accurately reflect their constituents should not be that difficult.
Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 17, 2021.
Editorial: State basketball should be a next step to the opening up of entertainment
For the first time since November, all 50 states reported decreases in COVID-19 cases last weekend.
That’s reason for optimism, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we urge continued vigilance. Wear a mask in public places. Socially distance when possible. And consider your options for getting vaccinated. These are the things that got us here.
There’s plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks, beginning with the girls and boys state high school basketball championships coming to Pinnacle Bank Arena the first two weekends of March.
It was announced last week that up to 75% capacity will be allowed inside the arena. That’s good for the local economy and great for our collective state of mind.
We hope the NCAA is paying attention, too. In any year, Omaha hosting the national volleyball Final Four would be considered grounds for excitement.
The NCAA, thanks to COVID-19, took it a step further by announcing this month that the entire 48-team tournament will be played there.
That’s big for Omaha, but it becomes less exciting if the NCAA opts not to allow fans. It’s also our hope that the Big Ten Conference, too, begins to loosen up its restrictions by letting fans watch the Huskers’ baseball and softball games in the Haymarket this spring.
The daily numbers are beginning to bear out that it’s time to begin moving forward. One year of directed health measures has taught most Americans how to live with COVID. And with the vaccine, there is hope to build upon.
State basketball is a good start and, perhaps, the NCAA -- and Big Ten Conference -- will follow suit.
Fortunately, the Big Ten has no binding jurisdiction over the Huskers when it comes to the Red-White Spring Game, which is being planned for May 1.
And while we don’t suggest the administration allow Memorial Stadium being filled to the rafters -- or even 75% of its capacity (that would be about 60,000) -- there should be fans allowed inside.
COVID is going to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future and managing while minimizing it has to be the goal.
We’ve already seen other forms of entertainment begin to open their doors. TADA Productions is finishing its first musical of the season, while the Lied Center for Performing Arts recently announced its schedule of events for the spring.
We respect those who maintain a cautious approach. People’s decisions are personal, not political.
And we respect those whose mask-wearing and social-distancing has helped get our community to a point where we can continue to loosen restrictions.