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AARP Nebraska Selects Top Legislative Issues for Action in 2012

AARP Nebraska is at the table working on behalf of our members in the current legislative session. While we’re concerned with a long list of bills and how they may affect Nebraskans age 50 plus, AARP is focused most on those issues where we have the best chance of making a difference in the lives of our members. Here’s a look at our top concerns and where we stand.

Medicaid In-Home Service Cuts – Oppose

Gov. Heineman has proposed cutting Medicaid services that support elderly and disabled Nebraskans living independently in their homes. Medicaid in-home services on the chopping block include home health personal assistance, private duty nursing and nutritional supplements for about 1,000 Nebraskans.

At the same time, Gov. Heineman wants to reduce corporate income taxes by $8.3 million in fiscal year 2013, roughly equal to his planned cuts for Medicaid in-home care.

“Since the people who rely on these services are at high risk of institutionalization, cutting services to finance a corporate income tax cut will inevitably lead to higher Medicaid spending in nursing homes,” said Mark Intermill, advocacy director for AARP Nebraska.

Changes to ACCESS Nebraska – Support

ACCESS Nebraska is the state’s new online and call center-based system to serve and enroll people in public benefits such as Medicaid and food and heating assistance. Under this system, the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) no longer assigns caseworkers to help clients apply for and maintain public benefits.

At community meetings across the state last fall, AARP heard from older Nebraskans and caregivers who have experienced many challenges using the system. Three measures would help fix problems with ACCESS Nebraska.

LB 825 would restore 25 local Health and Human Services offices, each staffed by two caseworkers, where people could get face-to-face help applying for benefits. Under LB 1016, DHHS would contract with community-based organizations to provide information, assistance and outreach on public benefits programs. A third bill would simplify the process for applying for benefits.

Social Security Taxation Relief – Support

Kiplinger Magazine recently rated Nebraska as the state with the third worst tax climate for retirees. Nebraska likely landed on that list because it is one of only six states to tax Social Security benefits at the same rate as the federal government, and one of five states that fully tax pension income.

For a single Nebraska retiree with combined annual income of $25,000 or more, at least 50 percent of Social Security benefits are taxable. Nationally, 36 states – including our neighbors, Wyoming and South Dakota – do not tax Social Security benefits at all.

Today, the state receives over $66 million in revenue annually by taxing Social Security income. As a first step, AARP has proposed targeting tax relief to middle-income Nebraskans by partially exempting Social Security benefits from state taxation.

Nebraska Health Benefit Exchange – Support

Tens of thousands of Nebraskans who are struggling to find affordable health coverage stand to benefit from health insurance exchanges created by the federal health care law. People without coverage, as well as the self-employed and small businesses, will be able to buy insurance through regulated exchanges set up by states or the federal government starting in 2014.

LB 835 would create a Nebraska exchange, an online marketplace with quality coverage, where consumers can compare options and make their own health insurance choices. An independent board would oversee the new health insurance marketplace. Of the eight voting board members, four are consumer or small business representatives. The remaining members come from medical and insurance backgrounds.

The federal law will require insurance companies to cover people even if they are or have been sick or disabled and they cannot drop people when they get sick. Those with incomes below 400 percent of poverty ($92,200 for a family of four in 2012) will qualify for tax credits that keep premium costs below 10 percent of the family’s income. There also will be protections in place to curb excessive premium rates because of age, gender or health condition.

Learn more about what a health benefit exchange means for Nebraskans.

Voter Photo ID – Oppose

LB 239 requires Nebraskans to show government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license or “acknowledgement of registration” in order to vote at the polling place. It has been amended to allow people to vote on a provisional ballot and have their vote count if they don’t show the required ID. Yet no evidence has been produced that voter fraud is a problem in Nebraska, and this unnecessary bill would be costly for local government.

Join Our Team

For more about AARP Nebraska’s legislative activities or to join our volunteer advocacy team, contact Mark Intermill at 1-866-389-5651 toll-free or mintermill@aarp.org.

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