January 20, 2012
As one of the
early, official acts of their 2012 session, Nebraska
lawmakers overwhelmingly passed Legislative Resolution
362, recognizing Jan. 5 of this year as the celebration
of the 75th anniversary of the Unicameral
It was on that date in 1937, that U.S. Senator
George Norris missed the opening of Congress in order to address the first
members of the first Unicameral. Norris’s speech emphasized the opportunity
those legislators had to expand the horizons of representative government
through the innovative device of a unicameral. It was a concept he
championed—the "Nebraska Experiment"—believing that a one-house system would
curb abuse of conference committees and promote transparency in government
proceedings. His concept also included election of the legislators on a
Nebraska voters had approved the idea at the
General Election in 1934. Thereby, Nebraska became the first and only state
with a one-house legislature. That’s still fact.
Norris represented Nebraska for five terms in the
U.S. House of Representatives, from 1903 through 1912, and then for five
terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1913 through 1942. Three of his famous
undertakings were sponsorship of legislation creating the Tennessee Valley
Authority (1933), which enabled dam construction on the Tennessee River to
control flooding and general low-cost electricity; legislation creating the
Rural Electrification Act, which brought electricity to rural areas
throughout the country and ensured public ownership of the power generation
and delivery system; and the Norris-La Guardia Act, which was a boon to
working men and women throughout the nation.
Norris died in McCook in 1944. A law enacted in
1981 already designates Jan. 5 of each year as George W. Norris Day. In
addition, in 1984, the Legislature’s chamber at the State Capitol was named
in his honor.
Transitional Program Helps with Pre-Existing
The fate of federal health care reform
legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, is "up
in the air" to say the least. It’s the law, but it’s under significant legal
challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear and decide at least
some of the constitutional issues. The Act might survive. It might fail in
part. It might collapse in total. It could be that. Justice Anthony Kennedy
controls the fate, as he once again appears to be the swing vote on a major
issue. Stay tuned.
Parts of the Act are already operative. One such
part is the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). Available since
July 2010, it provides a health care coverage option for children and adults
throughout the country who otherwise are denied coverage due to a
pre-existing condition. Currently in most states, private health insurance
companies can refuse to insure an individual for that reason.
Nebraska is one of 23 states in which the plan is
In order to be eligible to enroll in the
Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, an individual has to be a citizen or
national of the U.S. or reside here legally. He or she has to have been
without health care coverage for at least the last six months. And he or she
must have a pre-existing condition or have been denied coverage because of a
health condition. The latter two criteria are state-law determinations.
Applicants who are approved as eligible can choose
from three plan options, with different levels of premiums, calendar-year
deductibles, prescription deductibles and prescription co-pays. One option
is a Health Savings Account. Each option covers preventive care at 100
percent, with no deductibles.
PCIP covers a range of health benefits, including
primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. There are
no waiting periods for coverage to kick in after its effective date, even if
it’s to treat a pre-existing condition. There is no lifetime maximum or cap
on the amount of covered health care. There is provider choice.
For PCIP/Nebraska, premiums range from $132 per
month to $568 depending upon the age of the insured and the coverage option
selected. For example, the potential premium for a 50-year-old under the
standard plan is $303. The maximum a Nebraska participant can pay
out-of-pocket for covered services in a calendar year is $5,950 in network
and $7,000 out-of-network. Nebraska’s provider network includes more than
6,700 physicians, 460 pharmacies and 73 hospitals throughout the state.
The current PCIP program is considered
transitional; to last until 2014. Then, if what is scheduled to happen
survives the legal storm, insurers will no longer be allowed to deny
coverage to individuals with any pre-existing condition.
More information about the Pre-Existing Condition
Insurance Plan is available at
www.pcip.gov. Click on "Find Your State" to learn how it works in
And finally… Nebraska’s 49 legislators are paid a salary of $12,000 a
year. That’s been the salary since 1988. It’s in the state constitution.
It’s unreasonably low. On the second day of this session, Senator Scott
Lautenbaugh from Omaha introduced a legislative resolution (LR373CA)
proposing to place before the voters in November an amendment to the
Nebraska Constitution that would boost the salary to $32,000 per year. There
might be enough support to move something less than that to the ballot.
You can contact Jim at the
Nebraska Catholic Conference, 215 Centennial
Suite 310, Lincoln, NE 68508;