Expanded children’s health care coverage sought

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony Feb. 10 on a bill intended to streamline the process for certain children in Nebraska to obtain health insurance.

Sen. Jen Day
Sen. Jen Day

LB857, introduced by Omaha Sen. Jen Day, would use “express lane eligibility” to automatically enroll children receiving federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Human Services would be required to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a state plan amendment to implement express lane eligibility no later than Oct. 1, 2022.

LB857 stipulates that the new provision would apply to initial eligibility determinations, redeterminations, automatic enrollment and automatic renewals for health care coverage under Medicaid or CHIP.

Day said Nebraska ranked 31st in the nation in 2020 for CHIP participation among eligible children. The bill would help identify children that currently are falling through health care coverage cracks and quickly get them access to health care, she said.

Kelsey Arends of Nebraska Appleseed testified in support of the bill. LB857 would increase administrative efficiency, reduce the paperwork burden on families receiving benefits and expand health insurance access for children, she said.

“When kids go without health insurance they miss out on necessary checkups and preventative care,” Arends said.

Kenny McMorris, CEO of Charles Drew Health Center in Omaha, also testified in support of the bill. Enrolling in Medicaid or CHIP can be confusing and difficult for non-English speakers and individuals who are unfamiliar with the process, he said.

“Ensuring children have easy access to the Medicaid benefits they’re entitled to is significant to the health and future of young Nebraskans,” McMorris said.

Kevin Bagley, director of the Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care for DHHS, testified in opposition to LB857. Express lane eligibility places a great administrative burden on the department, he said, and seven other states that previously used express lane eligibility have since discontinued it after learning that ineligible children were receiving benefits.

Bagley said 94 percent of Nebraska children eligible for SNAP already are enrolled in Medicaid, adding that the bill would “inject a lot of red tape” into the DHHS system.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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