Nelson: Expand Medicaid deal to all states

By Chris Rizo | Jan 7, 2010

Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

Greg Abbott (R-Texas)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Under fire from more than a dozen state attorneys general, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska on Thursday said all states -- not just his -- should be able to opt out of increased payments to Medicaid mandated under a federal health care overhaul under debate in Congress.

A provision in the Senate-approved health care plan exempts Nebraska from having to pay Medicaid expense increases. The language was inserted into the bill to gain the support of Nelson, a Democrat, who offered the 60th and final vote late last month needed to pass the plan aimed at expanding access to health care.

In a statement, Nelson said all states should be treated under the final bill, now in conference committee before heading to President Barack Obama for his signature.

"I've been in serious discussions with Senate leaders and others to secure changes in the bill to treat all states equally," Nelson said. "At the end of the day, whatever Nebraska gets will apply to all states."

The Senate legislation requires that the states provide Medicaid coverage to anyone making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- a move that will likely expand the number of Medicaid-eligible persons throughout the country and increase the financial burden on the states since they bankroll part of the program.

Nelson, a former governor, noted that he has long been opposed to unfunded mandates places on the states.

"The current health care bill has an unfunded mandate for expanding Medicaid. While helping more Americans obtain health coverage is important, this mandate could burden state budgets in uncertain economic times ahead," he said.

Among state attorneys general threatening legal action over the so-called Cornhusker Kickback are the Republican AGs from Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

In decrying the controversial deal, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened legal action.

In a statement, Abbott said he was outraged by the deal, which has become known as the Nebraska Compromise.

"Because it disadvantages Texas taxpayers, the Texas Attorney General's Office will explore all available avenues to challenge and overturn this legally problematic provision," Abbott said. "Our democratic system of government depends upon transparency and openness--this backroom deal goes too far and must be challenged because Texas deserves better."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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