For many years, Nebraska Appleseed has worked to protect access to health care for low-income families in our state. We continued to strive towards this goal recently in the Nebraska Supreme Court, by representing a class of over 400 low-income families that had lost Medicaid health care coverage.
In the case of Davio v. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, class members challenged the Department’s policy of taking a person’s Medicaid benefits as the result of a sanction under the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program. The ADC program provides monthly cash assistance to very low-income families (a family of three earning about $9,000 per year). The vast majority of people participating in the ADC program must do a work activity for a set number of hours per month, usually an average of 120. If they do not do the activity, they lose the cash assistance.
However, the Department has a policy that requires not only taking away cash assistance, but also Medicaid. In the Davio case, class members claimed that the Department stepped outside its authority when removing Medicaid benefits because the law passed by the Unicameral allows only removing cash assistance. Indeed, the Department policy of taking away Medicaid is contrary not only to the letter of the law, but also to the goal of the ADC program.
The purpose of ADC is to move families towards economic self-sufficiency. When parents have access to health care they are less likely to miss work or become ill. Accordingly, taking away a family member’s Medicaid coverage impedes their progress towards self sufficiency. In other words, economic independence and access to health care go hand-in-hand. The Legislature recognized this by limiting the penalty a family can face only to loss of cash assistance.
The conclusion of the Davio case is as of yet unknown. For now, low-income families wait to see where our state will stand. I’m optimistic that our state Supreme Court will stand on the side of families striving for economic independence.