WASHINGTON - Sen. Ben Nelson said today that he's fighting hard to extend to all states the same Medicaid deal that Nebraska gets under the Senate health care bill.
"Whatever Nebraska gets will be available to all states," the Nebraska Democrat said.
Nelson has faced blistering criticism over the Medicaid deal, derided as the "Cornhusker kickback," which is worth tens of millions of dollars just through 2019.
While other states have to start footing the bill for expanding of Medicaid in 2017, the bill would have the federal government covering Nebraska's share forever. The exemption was put in the bill as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., worked to convince Nelson to deliver the crucial 60th vote to move the legislation forward. Nelson then cast his vote in favor of the bill.
But Nelson said the exemption was never intended to be a special deal for Nebraska. He said he raised the issue of unfunded federal mandates and suggested that individual states be allowed to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. Nebraska's exemption was then included in the bill as a "placeholder," Nelson said.
"Regardless of the language in the bill, my intent has been and remains absolutely clear - every state should be treated the same," Nelson said.
Differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill are being hammered out now, with final votes likely coming later this month or in early February.
Nelson said that simply removing the Nebraska exemption would not affect his support for the final bill. He declined to say how he would vote on the final bill if the Nebraska exemption remains and is not extended to other states.
"I've never made this a deal-maker or a deal-breaker, I've made that clear," Nelson said. "I think it's just doing what's right, and I think there are enough people who agree with me now and are understanding what I'm pushing for that this will be taken care of."