Kansas House panel votes against expanding Medicaid

A House panel voted against expanding Medicaid services to roughly 226,000 additional Kansans on Tuesday.

The resolution

now moves to the full House, where lawmakers from both parties say they think it will pass.

It doesn’t definitively block Medicaid expansion in Kansas. But it could give Gov. Sam Brownback, who hasn’t said yet whether he wants to expand the program, substantial support if he decides to take a stand against expansion.

Brownback did not include any funding for expansion in his proposed budget.

Rep. David Crum, R-Augusta, said the state already has “pretty robust” coverage for kids through Medicaid and CHIP. The expansion, he said, would increase coverage for adults without children.

“We’re not going to have any impact whatsoever on our children who are already receiving Medicaid services,” he said.

Crum said the United States has avoided feeling the pain of its expanding deficit.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said the resolution sends a simple and clear message that could help Brownback tell officials in Washington that states need more options beyond expanding or not.

“It’s a message that could help the governor,” he said.

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said the resolution seems more like lawmakers trying to make a grand ideological point that the federal government can’t afford this. Meanwhile, he said, other states will enjoy an influx of billions of federal dollars to help insure low-income residents.

“The very working Kansans that would benefit the most from this are the ones paying taxes so that other states can enjoy the medical coverage that they’re not going to get,” he said. “If that’s making a point, if that’s standing on principle, go back home and look those people in the eye when they are sick and have no coverage.”

Medicaid expansion was part of the federal health care reform signed by President Obama. Under the federal act, states have the option to expand Medicaid. The federal government has promised to pay all costs for the first three years before reducing its share to 90 percent of costs after that.

A study commissioned by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows it would cost the state about $616 million more over 10 years if it opts to expand coverage. But other studies show that the benefit of federal money fueling the healthcare industry and more Kansans getting coverage would outweigh the costs.

The expansion would extend coverage to everyone who makes less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level – or about $2,555 a month for a family of four.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said lawmakers have been reluctant to increase funding for the state’s existing safety net – let alone expand Medicaid.

“I’m not sure we can trust ourselves to fund some of the programs we already have,” she said.

In the end, Ballard said, Kansans will seek medical attention for their needs regardless of expansion.

“Either way, we’re going to pay,” she said.

Read The Eagle’s previous coverage here.