It's unfortunate that a provision in the health care bill that will help Nebraska taxpayers and eventually taxpayers in all states picked up an unfair nickname -- "The Cornhusker Kickback" -- because it is definitely not a kickback that came in exchange for my vote. Partisan misnomers like this are designed to confuse the public about an important issue.
The provision makes the federal government live up to its responsibilities and quit passing unfunded federal mandates down to the states. This is something I've been fighting since I was governor. When the federal government requires the states to do something the federal government should pay for it, not the states.
This is a matter of basic fairness in which Nebraska is leading the way. Already, two other states, Vermont and Massachusetts, are included and senators from other states, inspired by the Nebraska example against unfunded federal mandates, have begun talking about including their states as well before it takes effect in 2017.
I talked about this during negotiations; a provision to allow states to opt in or opt out as they chose but the Congressional Budget Office was unable to get figures to the majority leader in time for it to enter discussions. It was understood that it could be fixed during conference to apply to other states.
Studies estimate that the expansion could cover an additional 83,000 to 106,000 Nebraskans when Medicaid income eligibility levels become effective in 2014.
Governor Heineman is concerned about the extra cost to Nebraska which he said would be $45 million by 2019. On December 16th he wrote to me saying that "the state of Nebraska cannot afford an unfunded mandate and uncontrolled spending of this magnitude."
I took the governor's concerns to the Senate majority leader who then added a provision extending federal payment for Nebraska's new Medicaid enrollees and the rest is history.
The issue only became controversial when partisans who wanted to derail health care reform for political reasons entered the picture. When that happened I wrote back to the governor on December 20th saying that I would ask that the provision be removed if that was his desire. I haven't heard back.
This would not have prevented me from voting for the bill. Deal breakers that would have prevented me from voting for it were if there would have been a public insurance option, which there isn't, or if the bill would have allowed federal funding for abortions, which it does not.
I truly believe that a competitive health care system will lower costs and provide better health care for the American people without increasing taxes on the middle class or increasing the deficit.
Change is never easy...but change is what is needed in America's health care system today. Ask someone whose been denied insurance because of a pre existing condition or someone who can no longer afford insurance because of huge premium increases each year. This is why I supported this legislation.