Medicaid personal needs allowance increase advanced

Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from general file March 4 that would increase the personal needs allowance by $10 for Medicaid eligible individuals who reside in an alternative living arrangement.

As introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, LB366 originally would have increased the allowance from $50 to $75. The change would reflect the higher cost of living, Pansing Brooks said, noting that the allowance has not been increased since 1999.

“This is basically an inflationary adjustment,” she said, adding that many Nebraskans living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities lack the funds to cover their discretionary personal needs.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash agreed, saying he had introduced the same bill last session after visiting a nursing home in his district during the holiday season. Residents had written their gift requests on the back of tree ornaments, he said, and most were for items like lotion or a pair of socks.

“These residents were not asking for luxury items,” Coash said. “They were asking for things that they needed.”

Coash offered an amendment, adopted 36-5, that lowered the proposed increase to $60. He said a moderate increase would improve residents’ quality of life while lowering the bill’s original $3 million General Fund fiscal impact.

“We haven’t kept up,” he said. “Fifty dollars doesn’t buy what it used to; it certainly doesn’t buy what it did in 1999.”

Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln spoke in favor of increasing the allowance. Individuals must spend down their assets before becoming eligible for Medicaid, he said, and the personal needs allowance represents the amount of their own money that they are able to keep each month.

“It’s money that they need to maintain some kind of dignity,” Baker said.

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy opposed the bill and the amendment, calling the proposal a component of Medicaid expansion. He said an increase in the personal allowance would reduce the amount of money available in the state’s budget to provide tax relief to all Nebraskans.

“Well-meaning or not, that’s what this legislation does,” McCoy said.

The amended bill advanced to select file on a 29-12 vote.

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