Children's health advocate urges Nebraska educators to ignore governor's push to repeal healthcare reform

A prominent children's welfare advocate is calling on Nebraska education leaders to resist an appeal from Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to help Republicans repeal the new healthcare reform law.

Heineman's request, says Bruce Lesley, head of First Focus, creates tensions between health and education programs that could ultimately damage both.

"Educators should not be asked to make a 'Hobson’s Choice' of voting for improving the education of children by harming their healthcare or vice versa," Lesley wrote Wednesday in a letter to members of Nebraska's State Board of Education. "I urge you to either oppose or table all efforts that would pit the educational and healthcare needs of children against one another." 

Last week, Heineman wrote to Nebraska education leaders warning that the reform law's Medicaid expansion would erode funding for education programs.

"Don't sit on the sidelines," Heineman lobbied. "I strongly urge you to support the repeal of the recently enacted federal healthcare law."

Heineman's office last month issued a report estimating the reform law's Medicaid expansion will cost Nebraska up to $766 million over the next decade — a much higher projection than those crunched by other analysts, including Nebraska's health department. 

Lesley is quick to note that the federal government, under the reform law, will pick up the entire tab of the Medicaid expansion through 2016 — a timeline leading to the question of how the provision could pose an immediate threat to the state budget.

"It is simply unsound for anyone to threaten the budget for education spending in 2011 based on estimated spending on healthcare in 2017 and beyond," Lesley said.

Full repeal of the reform law, the First Focus president added, would also eliminate a long list of children's health benefits that could diminish the students' performance in the classroom. 

"If you vote to repeal healthcare reform in its entirety, then you would be voting to reimpose pre-existing exclusions on children with cancer, diabetes or other illnesses," Lesley wrote, "to reimpose annual and lifetime limits on what insurance will cover for children, cutting funding for healthcare prevention efforts for children, and to increase the number of uninsured children in this country.

"Children need to be both healthy and educated in order for our nation to compete in the world’s global economy."