Kelly introduces bill for expanding Medicaid

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Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday unveiled her plan to expand Medicaid to 150,000 Kansans, patterning the proposal after one that was narrowly defeated two years ago.

Kelly announced her plan, which would cover Kansans under 65 years old who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, less than a week after revealing a working group created to advise her on Medicaid expansion.

Kansas is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage, 90 percent of which is covered by the federal government. The bill was introduced on behalf of the governor by state Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore of Kansas City, Kan.

Expanding Medicaid was one of Kelly’s top campaign promises as she ran for governor. Whether she can get the bill passed, however, remains an unknown since she must work with a more conservative Legislature.

“It’s long past time to expand Medicaid so that more Kansans have access to affordable healthcare, our rural hospitals can stay open, and the tax dollars we send to Washington can come back home to Kansas to help our families,” Kelly said in a statement.

“This bill meets the unique needs of Kansas patients, hospitals, providers, and diverse communities while remaining financially sustainable.”

Kelly said the bill was based on one the House and Senate passed two years ago but was later vetoed by former Gov. Sam Brownback. The House came up three votes short of overriding the governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion in 2017.

With Kelly in the governor’s office, the Legislature can pass the bill with a simple majority this year. Without a Democratic governor two years ago, a two-thirds majority was required to override a gubernatorial veto of the legislation.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins has opposed Medicaid expansion and rejects the idea that it will generate enough money to save rural hospitals from closing. “We know that Medicaid expansion does not save rural hospitals,” he said. “When you see one hospital gets $6,000, another one gets $8,000, one gets $25,000 — those amounts do not save hospitals.

“If Medicaid expansion was brought on to save rural health care, that’s not the way to do it,” he said. “We need to change that narrative to something that will help rural health care, and we intend to start talking about that.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said the time has come for Medicaid expansion.

“It’s very important that the Legislature pass that bill this time,” he said. “Medicaid expansion will provide health insurance for 150,000 Kansans that have not had health insurance, and it will produce a lot of jobs and keep rural hospitals open. We need to pass this and, hopefully, as quickly as we can.”

Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr, chair of the House health committee, wouldn’t rule out the idea of holding a form of hearings on the bill.

She wants a series of roundtable discussions to collect information about what Medicaid expansion should look like.

“What I would like to do is have the opportunity to bring people in from out of state, different organizations and activists around the (Capitol) that want to have a say,” Landwehr said. “If we’re going to do anything, let’s look at the experiences, take the opportunity and do it right.”

Landwehr questioned Kelly’s appointment of a working group to advise her on Medicaid expansion when it appeared there was a bill already drafted. “That concerns me a little bit.”

Hawkins has questioned Kelly’s decision to keep any working group deliberations private. The governor’s office has said the group is not subject to the open-meetings law.

It has been described more as a list of people advising the governor. They indicated there might not be a meeting of the group.

Hawkins again on Tuesday expressed skepticism about the value of the working group, which was announced last week.

“My whole concern has always been the transparency issue with her working group,” he said.  “Her working group was supposedly set up to produce a bill. They undoubtedly never met. We would just like to see the transparency of how they developed what they developed.”

Hensley said the Legislature has already passed the bill that Kelly introduced, meaning that it will expedite the process. He said he thinks it would be politically unwise for Republicans to try to sidetrack the Medicaid proposal.

“I don’t believe they should give any resistance,” Hensley said. “It was an important issue in the previous gubernatorial campaign. I believe it’s something that the people of Kansas believe the Legislature should do. I would hope the Republican Legislature in both Houses will stand down and let the will of the people be heard.”