Insulin costs would be capped and insurance policies would have to cover more breast and colon cancer screenings, under a proposal being considered in the Nebraska Legislature.
In the Nebraska Legislature, when a bill is amended to include many other bills, the result is what is called a “Christmas tree,” referring to all the ornaments attached to a proposal. In the legislature these days, with the number of bills that are limited by piracy, there is a whole forest of Christmas trees being grown.
That was the case again Tuesday when a package of bills was debated out of the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. Committee Chair Senator Julie Slama commented on the 15 bills in the package.
“This is really a bill that everyone should be able to find something they like and it’s a great grouping of bills and I’m so grateful to Speaker Arch for allowing us to put this Christmas tree together to make sure that these bills with little controversy they can cross the finish line this year,” Slama said.
Included in the package are proposals by Sen. Elliott Bostar to cap the cost of insulin at $35 for a 30-day supply and to require state-regulated insurance policies to cover breast cancer screening. The bill specifies coverage for more frequent screenings for women considered at high risk by national guidelines. It also requires coverage of colorectal cancer screenings at no cost to the patient. Bostar said the requirements would save money for both individuals and society as a whole.
“The costs associated with treating someone with cancer are extraordinary. If you catch it through screening – prevention – health care costs a lot less. It’s common sense,” Bostar said.
Sen. Ben Hansen, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, questioned Bostar’s argument.
“What is the long-term cost of bills like this over the long term? And will that cost us more? I have a feeling it will. I mean, I don’t think it’s going to lower insurance cost prices. I don’t see how it can, because at the end of the day, if you think about the free market economy, the insurance companies will probably end up just raising rates to pay for it,” Hansen said.
Senator Merv Rippe expressed philosophical reservations, saying that promoting preventive care should be the responsibility of the private sector, not mandated by the government.
“As a conservative, I have concerns about this ever-increasing position of the state of Nebraska trying to become a health care dictator, if you will,” Rippe said.
Slama countered this criticism.
“I think I hate mandates more than anyone on this floor. If anyone wants to go to the mat with me on this, I’m willing to go there. So I did not take lightly the addition of Senator Bostar’s pieces to this Christmas tree,” she said.
Slama said insurance companies don’t object to the insulin cap. She said the colorectal screening coverage would benefit rural residents who live far from where they can get a colonoscopy. And she said covering breast cancer screening would help women who currently can’t afford the tests and are getting mastectomies instead.
Another ornament added to the Christmas tree was Sen. Mike McDonnell’s proposal to try to attract a semiconductor chip maker to Nebraska. McDonnell said it represents a good opportunity to hire an industry not currently in the state.
“If these companies don’t come here, we don’t spend anything. If these companies actually come here and set up shop here and start hiring our people and we start training our people through a community college and university, we’ve actually given the next generation a clear path to success that they don’t have as of today,” McDonnell said. .
Sen. Megan Hunt opposed McDonnell’s amendment.
“I honestly opposed Senator Macdonald’s amendment. On the one hand, I think there are problems from a subject perspective. But I’m also just opposed to what it’s doing, frankly, and the way it could affect our general fund,” Hunt said.
The Nebraska Constitution requires bills to contain no more than one subject, although courts have generally given the legislature wide discretion in how to conduct its business.
The Legislature also has a rule that no amendments are allowed on subjects other than what is under consideration. But doing so requires someone to challenge the amendment as inappropriate, which no one did with the McDonnell amendment.
Hunt said her concern about the impact on the general fund comes from requirements, including a state match for all federal grants to a chip maker, up to 25 percent of the total project cost.
Senators voted 41-1, with only Hunt opposed, to accept McDonnell’s amendment. And while she and Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh continued their efforts to delay legislative action to protest a proposal to limit health care for transgender youth, the Legislature appeared poised to decorate the Christmas tree Tuesday with a garland of green lights, signifying a “yes” vote “, later in the evening.