Kelly proposes plan to expand Medicaid in Kansas based on 2017 bill vetoed by Brownback

Posted at 12:28 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-29 16:48:39-05

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly released a plan Tuesday for expanding Medicaid in Kansas that revives a bipartisan proposal vetoed two years ago by a Republican predecessor.

Kelly's legislation would extend state health coverage to another 150,000 adults, starting in January 2020. She and other supporters argue that doing so would not only help struggling families and financially strapped rural hospitals but boost the state's economy.

But top Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature continue to strongly oppose Medicaid expansion. They argue it will prove costly, even with the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act's promise that the federal government will cover most of the expense.

Kelly made Medicaid expansion a key issue during her campaign last year. Thirty-six other states, including GOP-led ones, have done it, and Kelly revived the 2017 legislation on the 158th anniversary of Kansas' admission to the Union.

"It's long past time to expand Medicaid," Kelly said in a statement.

The 2017 bill was vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, a vocal critic of the 2010 federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat. The bill had strong bipartisan support but not quite the two-thirds majorities needed to override Brownback's veto.

Expansion supporters believe they still have solid majorities in both chambers. But last year's elections made the Legislature more conservative, and expansion opponents control key leadership positions, giving them hope of blocking Kelly's proposal.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a conservative Wichita Republican, would not commit Tuesday to a vote on an expansion bill in his chamber, telling reporters: "We'll have to analyze it."

"The defect of any bill having to do with Medicaid expansion has to do with the fact of the cost," Hawkins added.

In Kansas, Medicaid covers about 360,000 poor, disabled and elderly residents but not any childless adults, nor parents who earn more than 38 percent of the federal poverty level, or $658 a month for a single parent and two children.

Kelly's plan would cover all adults under 65 earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level, about $2,300 for a family of three.

Kelly's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 says the first six months of Medicaid expansion would cost $509 million and be financed mostly with federal funds. That figure is in line with a projection from Brownback's administration in 2017.

But Kelly's budget says only $14 million would need to be covered with state tax dollars — and Republican leaders think that number is too low. The 2017 projection pegged the figure at $26 million.

Kelly's plan would refer all non-disabled adults covered by the expansion to workforce training programs if they are not working at least 20 hours a week. Senate health committee chairman Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita conservative, said fellow Republicans will want to discuss tougher work requirements and premiums for some participants.

As for Kelly's plan, Suellentrop said, "I don't know that, that particular plan is what would work in Kansas."

Kelly said repeatedly she would have a Medicaid "working group," but announced 11 members to "spearhead" the expansion effort only six days ago.

Hawkins and other Republicans criticized the group for not having public meetings, and Kelly last week dismissed GOP suggestions that the working group was merely political cover, telling reporters, "The plan is not yet written."

But she also said, "You know, we're not inventing this wheel."

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the 2017 bill was "very good" legislation and returning to it "expedites the process."