Kansas lawmakers begin debate on Medicaid expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. While a bipartisan plan in Topeka seeks to end years of gridlock on the issue, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly says there is a long way to go before declaring victory.

(Source: Medicaid)

Supporters of Medicaid expansion in Kansas say the time is now for this to happen as the state senate's public health and welfare committee start to debate the issue.

"This is the ninth year we've been discussing Medicaid expansion in Kansas," says Kari Rinker with the American Heart Association Wichita.

Rinker says Medicaid expansion is needed for Kansans who don't make enough for subsidies on the federal health insurance marketplace, but as is, make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

"They estimate that 150,000 Kansans are living in the gap there," she says. "A sudden cardiac event can happen to anyone at any time and the financial devastation and ruin that can come."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly hammered out a compromise from previous proposals. That compromise calls for Medicaid expanding to Kansans who fall within 138 percent of the poverty line.

It includes work requirements where applying for Medicaid will have to fill out a form showing they are looking for work or show why they are not able to work. Enrollees would pay monthly premiums of up to $25 per month, or $100 for a family of four, as proposed in the proposed bill. A hardship provision is also included.

The plan also includes a re-insurance program to support Kansans who buy health insurance through the exchange. That program would go into effect no later than January 1, 2022.

"Hopefully the work requirements will stay out of any amendments or discussion on this because that just simply exists as a barrier," Rinker says.

Denning told the committee he will oppose amendments that turn the work referral into a work requirement and adding conscientious objections to the bill.

"Senators have sponsored this bill. I think any big policy recommendations should be done in a transparent manner, Denning says.

While opponents of the bill are scheduled to speak next week, there were some at Thursday's hearing in Topeka.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, says in issue it with the bill calling for Medicaid expansion in Kansas is that it doesn't address thousands on the KanCare waiting list.

"We believe that expanded healthcare access and improving opportunities for Kansas to have better health outcomes lies more in innovation rather than a government mandate," Americans for Prosperity Kansas Deputy State Directory Elizabeth Patton.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion continue to testify Friday before opponents have their chance to weigh in next week.