Sen. Nelson wants Medicaid deal for all states

Health Care Overhaul
"States that are concerned about Nebraska getting something that they're not getting should rest at ease," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. "That's not going to happen."Harry Hamburg / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sen. Ben Nelson said Thursday he has asked Democratic leadership to extend to all states the extra Medicaid funding promised to Nebraska in the health care reform bill.

The Democrat wouldn't say who he has spoken to regarding the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback" but that he would see to it that Nebraska doesn't get a special deal.

"At the end of the day, whatever Nebraska gets will be available to all states," Nelson said during a conference call with reporters.

Nelson provided the crucial 60th vote that brought the reform bill to the full Senate after winning concessions to limit the availability of abortions in insurance sold in newly created exchanges. Among other things, he was promised federal funding to cover Nebraska's entire cost of a Medicaid expansion included in the bill. Other states will have to begin picking up a portion of the added expanse beginning in 2017.

Nelson has said he didn't ask for special treatment for his state.

Nebraska wasn't alone in getting Medicaid breaks. Vermont, Louisiana and Massachusetts also got help with their programs.

Nelson said Thursday that if he can't secure a similar deal for every state, he wants states to be freed from paying the cost of Medicaid expansion. That could mean eliminating the provision, finding another way to pay for it or allowing states to opt out.

"States that are concerned about Nebraska getting something that they're not getting should rest at ease," Nelson said. "That's not going to happen."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday urged the state's lawmakers to vote against the reform measure unless they can negotiate a special deal for more Medicaid money. Thirteen state attorneys general also have threatened to sue if Nebraska's extra Medicaid funding were not removed from the measure in conference committee.

Nelson said Thursday that he expects all states will get extra Medicaid funding, but he wouldn't speculate on whether he'd vote against the reform measure if Nebraska was still singled out.

The senator said his top concerns about the bill continue to be making sure federal money won't pay for abortions and the exclusion of a government-run insurance plan.

"Those were the two dealmakers — or deal-breakers," he said.