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Will Ricketts Sabotage The Medicaid Expansion?

Election night 2018 was a good night for the Democratic Party and the American people. The voters rose up against the oligarchy that has been running our country and installed checks and balances against a radical and out of control Republican Party. The results restored my faith in our system and made me proud to be an American.

One of the most gratifying results was the adoption of the Medicaid expansion here in Nebraska by a 53% to 47% margin. Thanks to the people of Nebraska, 90,000 of our fellow citizens will soon have access to decent health care. I’m also thankful that the initiative passed despite the flood of lies from its billionaire opponents.

Unfortunately, the fight isn’t over. After this stinging defeat, Governor Pete Ricketts has said that the approximately $50 million per year needed to fund the Medicaid expansion will have to be covered by existing revenues. The billionaire governor has adamantly refused to raise taxes on the wealthy and said the measure will have to be financed by cutting funding for schools, roads and property tax relief. Long story short, Ricketts is a sore loser.

Appropriations Chair John Stinner contends that a balanced state budget is “doable” even with the Medicaid expansion costs. Medicaid expansion proponent Senator Adam Morfeld stated that: “Half of the anticipated new revenue” from the collection of money from the online sales tax would “cover new Medicaid costs easily… After two or three years, Medicaid will pay for itself.”

Ricketts could very well play a game of chicken with the Unicameral over the funding of the Medicaid expansion. Gov. Paul LePage of Maine has established a template for Ricketts to obstruct or even sabotage the Medicaid expansion. In Maine, the voters passed a Medicaid expansion initiative by a 59% to 41% margin in November 2017. Nevertheless, LePage governed against the will of the majority and refused to submit a legally required plan and vetoed bills to fund the new law.

At the present time, LePage’s refusal to implement the Medicaid expansion is being litigated in the courts. The Maine voters responded by replacing a termed out LePage with a Democratic governor who will follow the will of the people. It is expected that the Medicaid expansion will be implemented shortly after Janet Mills takes office as governor in January.

Here in Nebraska, Morfeld has contended that: “The funding requirement is crystal-clear in the language. There is no legal room not to fund it… The budget won’t pass next year if it is not funded.” The north Lincoln senator has stated that he and other Medicaid proponents will go to court if Ricketts and his right wing supporters in the Unicameral block funding.

The problem with going to court is that 6 out of 7 of the members of the Nebraska Supreme Court are Heineman and Ricketts appointees. The high court could refuse to rule in favor of the Medicaid expansion by taking the position that this is a political question for the elected branches to sort out.

There are certainly grounds for cautious optimism that the Unicameral will fund the Medicaid expansion in a responsible fashion. According to two former Democratic state senators who have close ties to the current legislature, there will be about 27 senators next year who are either Democrats or moderate Republicans who will stand up to Ricketts. We may need an additional three senators to override a potential Ricketts’ veto.

No victory over the radical right is ever final in nature. The oligarchs are relentless and will do everything they can to block progressive reforms. We must be equally relentless and never take a day off. As Coretta Scott King said: “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it in every generation.” Let’s enjoy our victory but be ready to get back to work tomorrow!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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