Gov. Laura Kelly endorsed a Medicaid expansion bill Tuesday targeting services to 150,000 Kansans and based on legislation passed by the House and Senate two years ago but vetoed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Kelly, who asked a task force to bring to the surface a strategy for broadening eligibility by Kansas Day, said the new bill would provide more people with affordable health care, strengthen the bottom line of rural hospitals and bring tax dollars back to the state.
Kansas is among 14 states that declined to expand Medicaid under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
"This bill meets the unique needs of Kansas patients, hospitals, providers and diverse communities while remaining financially sustainable," Kelly said in a statement. “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."
She provided no estimate of the cost for including 150,000 more people in the Medicaid program, which has focused on health care for disabled and elderly people. The bill was introduced Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
In 2017, the Legislature adopted legislation to extend Medicaid coverage. The bill was vetoed by Brownback. The Legislature didn't have sufficient votes to override him. Since then, GOP House and Senate leadership have worked to block attempts to pass an expansion bill. Election of Kelly in November removed the executive branch obstacle to Medicaid expansion.
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and leading critic of Medicaid expansion, said aggressive extension of the government program wasn't the right approach to dealing with medically uninsured or underinsured Kansans.
"To put it bluntly," he said, "Medicaid expansion will not solve the financial issues facing rural hospitals. Politicians and special interests ensure that Medicaid expansion is consistently put forward as the only answer. But it's simply not true."
Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of the Kansas Truth Caucus, said Kelly recommended the Legislature make sweeping changes to Medicaid based on the quick work of the governor's task force.
"A working group formed for just five days, whose meetings were never open to the public and whose findings have never been shared," he said.
A majority of Kansans endorse Medicaid expansion based on surveys, and rejection of reform by Brownback and Gov. Jeff Colyer denied the health system in Kansas billions in federal tax dollars.
Lee Norman, a physician and the acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said he had witnessed the result of illnesses being diagnosed late and how families were damaged by lack of access to health care. "I know we can do better, and this bill is a monumental step forward," Norman said.
Medicaid expansion will benefit Kansas families and children, said Laura Howard, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services.
"It’s the most important tool Kansas can utilize to provide the necessary treatment and services to vulnerable Kansans," she said.
April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said the organization embraced Kelly's bill because it would improve the health of Kansans, create jobs and strengthen the economy. Members of the 2019 Legislature should do their part, she said, to deliver health coverage to tens of thousands of Kansans.