Published December 21, 2009
Sen. Ben Nelson's hardly the only lawmaker extracting sweetheart deals out of the health care reform bill.
While the Nebraska Democrat got a particularly juicy concession in exchange for a "yes" vote on the 10-year, $871 billion package -- permanent and full federal aid for his state's expanded Medicaid population -- support from a slew of other senators likewise came with a price.
Western states got more money for hospitals that serve Medicare patients. Louisiana got up to $300 million in Medicaid benefits. The list goes on.
Senate Republicans lined up Saturday to decry the latest deal targeted toward Nebraska, which was decried as the "cornhusker kickback."
"Votes have been bought," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said.
But Senate Democrats said the payoffs are nothing unusual, and in fact typical.
"People fight for their own states. That's the nature of a democracy," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on "Fox News Sunday," defending Nelson against withering attacks from the GOP.
"This is just part of the normal legislative process," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As a measure of just how typical they are, a slew of payoffs and concessions have been struck over the past several months.
-- Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., won between $100 million and $300 million in additional federal aid for her state's Medicaid population. The deal, secured before she cast her critical vote in favor of bringing the health bill to the floor, was immediately dubbed the "Louisiana Purchase," though the actual Louisiana Purchase was considerably cheaper.
-- Vermont and Massachusetts got $1.2 billion in Medicaid money -- a change that was described as a correction to the current system which exempts those two states because they have robust health care systems. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also boasted Saturday that he requested and won an investment worth between $10 and $14 billion for community health centers.
-- Western states secured higher federal reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals that serve Medicare patients. The provision covers the low-population "frontier" states and applies to Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming -- the latter two states are both represented by two Republicans, but ended up as beneficiaries anyway since they qualify. The legislative language defines frontier states as states where at least 50 percent of the counties have fewer than six people per square mile. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, defended the "special deal," telling "Fox News Sunday" that those five states were getting an increase in reimbursements because they get the lowest amount in the country. "That doesn't offend me at all," he said. "It's in fact, fair."
-- Florida, New York and Pennsylvania -- where five of six senators are Democrats -- will have their seniors' Medicare Advantage benefits protected, even as the program sees massive cuts elsewhere.
-- Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., reportedly secured expanded Medicare coverage for victims of asbestos exposure in a mine in Libby, Mont.
-- Connecticut is receiving $100 million for a "health care facility" affiliated with an academic health center at a university that contains the state's only "public academic medical and dental school."
-- Nebraska's Nelson won permanent federal aid for his state's expanded Medicaid population, a benefit worth up to $100 million over 10 years. Other states get the federal aid for three years, but Nebraska's benefit is indefinite. His state also got an exemption for nonprofit insurance companies from a health insurance company tax. Many believe this was targeted at Mutual of Omaha, but senior Democratic aides would not confirm that.
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman didn't extract any payoffs for Connecticut. Rather, he succeeded in stripping the government-run insurance plan from the Senate health bill, along with a proposed expansion of Medicare that he recently said he opposes.
Fox News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.