Gov. Dave Heineman says the state has no intention of returning $5.4 million in federal money to establish health insurance exchanges in Nebraska as suggested by Sen. Ben Nelson.
The exchange between Heineman, Republican, and Nelson, Democrat, is just the latest dispute between the two.
Heineman reasserts he supports the lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal health care law, but says the state must prepare if the law is upheld by the Supreme Court.
“Well, you know what, we wouldn’t be in this dilemma if Sen. Nelson and President Obama hadn’t created this mess when they passed Obamacare,” Heineman tells reporters when asked about Nelson’s assertion. “The reason we’re forced to move forward in this regard is (because) it’s currently the law of the land. And I’ve made it very, very clear that we’re going to continue to work with the Attorney General and 25 other states, because we think the law is unconstitutional. We’re going to know that answer by June of 2012.”
Nelson rejected Heineman’s response.
“Well, I think that’s partisan, quite honestly,” Nelson tells reporters during a conference call.
Nelson claims state health insurance exchanges give consumers better choices whether the federal health care law stands up in court or not.
“So, there’s an advantage to do what he should do and then if the bill is constitutional and the law is constitutional it’s in place. If not, it’s still an advantage for Nebraska consumers to have that exchange in place,” according to Nelson.
This dispute arose after Nelson wrote United States Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to insist federal dollars being used to help state governments create health insurance exchanges do not go to waste if a state chooses not to establish an exchange.
Nelson wrote a letter to Sebelius Friday.
“I am concerned that, in light of certain statements and actions by officials from the state of Nebraska to prevent the creation of a state-based health insurance exchange, this money will be of no tangible benefit to the citizens of Nebraska. At a time when our nation is struggling to determine the appropriate use of every single federal tax dollar, awarding money in this fashion is a wasteful exercise,” wrote in the letter.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services awarded Nebraska a $5.4 million grant to plan, research and design a state-based health insurance exchange. Nebraska was one of 13 states that received such a grant. The state received $1 million earlier to help implement the law.
“For the sake of clarity concerning the use of taxpayer dollars, I strongly suggest that you make it clear to every state requesting Level One Establishment grant funding that they need not do so and that they may defer planning, design and implementation of the exchange to the federal government if they so choose. In addition, states may return grant monies associated with the creation of exchanges, as officials from the states of Kansas and Oklahoma have said they will do,” Nelson wrote in the letter.
Nelson stated that taxpayers have the right to know how the federal government might use the reports and infrastructure funded by the grants if Nebraska never designs its own health insurance exchange.
“Given that the Governor of Nebraska opposes implementing the exchange for which the Level One Establishment grant funding is intended to facilitate, a prompt response is requested in order to allow for the potential return of these taxpayer funds,” he concluded.
Nelson is the former director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance. He says state health insurance exchanges provide consumers more choices.