Warren Buffett, Walter Scott give big dollars to push Medicaid expansion

Warren Buffett, Walter Scott give big dollars to push Medicaid expansion
Omaha billionaires Warren Buffett and Walter Scott Jr. have written big checks in support of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Nebraskans. (Bloomberg)

Omaha billionaires Warren Buffett and Walter Scott Jr. have written big checks in support of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Nebraskans.

Each of the Omaha businessmen donated $200,000 to urge a yes vote for Initiative 427, according to the latest finance report on the measure that appears on the Nov. 6 state ballot.

The support of Berkshire Hathaway CEO Buffett is not surprising. Buffett has long spoken of the need for a wealthy country like the United States to provide an adequate safety net for those left behind by capitalism. Initiative 427 would expand Medicaid to cover an additional 90,000 Nebraskans, most of them among the working poor.

Buffett has also expressed concern about the high cost, complexity and bureaucracy of the U.S. health care system. He has joined forces with CEOs Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase to fund a venture seeking reforms.

Scott’s support for Initiative 427 is notable in that he and the Omaha construction company he formerly headed, Kiewit Corp., once provided significant funding for a ballot issue seeking to limit government spending in Nebraska. Cost to state taxpayers has been one of the primary arguments against Initiative 427, estimated at between $39 million and $57 million annually by 2022.

But Scott has also been bullish on causes he believes would advance the economies of Omaha and the state. Supporters of Initiative 427 have touted the economic benefits coming from annually injecting more than $500 million in additional federal Medicaid dollars into Nebraska’s health care system and economy.

Neither Buffett nor Scott, who are also good friends, could be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We are excited and proud to have the support of Warren Buffett, Walter Scott and countless other donors, large and small, across the state,” said Adam Morfeld, a state senator from Lincoln who is working as a paid consultant to the Insure the Good Life ballot committee.

The checks from Buffett and Scott were among some $1.2 million in new contributions revealed this week by Insure the Good Life, bringing to $2.9 million the total amount raised. The group had spent $2.6 million as of last week, including recent expenditures for television advertising, direct mail and phone banks urging supporters to go to the polls.

The Fairness Project, a labor-backed national organization that supports efforts to take issues of economic fairness directly to voters, recently donated another $500,000, bringing its total contribution to some $1.7 million.

The Fairness Project is required to disclose its contributions, but it is not required to disclose its donors. Its leaders say its core support comes from SEIU-UHW, a California union of health care workers, as well as other donations.

Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, said he was not surprised by the Omaha billionaires’ support for Initiative 427. “Medicaid expansion is a kind of common-sense solution that can bring people across the political spectrum together,” he said.

The Fairness Project is also backing Medicaid ballot measures in Idaho, Utah and Montana, so far spending more than $5 million in the four states. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid, leaving Nebraska among one-third of states that have not done so.

Other major recent donations in support of Initiative 427 included $100,000 from Dianne Lozier, general counsel of the family-owned Lozier Corp. and a longtime supporter of the Omaha Public Schools, $100,000 from the National Education Association teachers union, about $30,000 from the Nebraska State Education Association and $6,000 from Nebraska Appleseed. Appleseed has now donated nearly $150,000 to the campaign, the NSEA nearly $140,000.

There is no formal ballot committee opposing Initiative 427, but two groups are running independent advertisements in the state.

The Alliance for Taxpayers has spent at least $50,000 in Nebraska on TV ads that criticize Medicaid expansion, saying it would raise taxes, not require recipients to work and result in less funding for roads, schools and property tax relief. The nonprofit formed last month is taking advantage of a loophole in state election law and is not reporting the total amount it is spending or its donors.

The Nebraska affiliate of Americans for Prosperity, the limited government organization founded by Republican donors Charles and David Koch, is running radio ads urging a no vote. It had spent about $15,000 as of the end of September.

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