Nelson calls for all states to receive Medicaid exemption

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)

During last month's Senate healthcare debate, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) negotiated a deal that would exempt his state from having to pay its share of a proposed Medicaid expansion plan. Now he's calling for a similar deal for the other 49 states.

The so-called “Sweetheart Deal” was struck after Nelson threatened to withhold his vote to pass healthcare reform during the final rounds of Senate negotiations in late December. Under the proposed Medicaid expansion, states would be on the hook for a percentage of the increased costs of the expansion. But Nelson demanded and received an exemption for the state of Nebraska. That has drawn widespread criticism from lawmakers.

Now he is saying he never intended for his “Sweetheart Deal” to be for Nebraskans only. Nelson reportedly is negotiating for a provision that would have the federal government pay the entire cost of Medicaid expansion for all 50 states, or allow states to opt out of their cost-sharing responsibilities.

Such a provision would come as relief for state legislators who fear an expansion of Medicaid would hurt their already tenuous fiscal situations. That includes California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) whose state is facing a crushing $26 billion deficit. He took a swipe at Nelson in his State of the State speech last Wednesday. The Cornhusker State, “got the corn,” according to Schwarzenegger. “We got the husk.”