New law prevents expansion of Medicaid in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is not going to expand its Medicaid program anytime soon in line with the federal health care overhaul, but advocates aren’t giving up on the idea, despite a new law indefinitely blocking an expansion.

The Wichita Eagle reports (http://bit.ly/1phlqry ) that the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved still plans to pursue the issue. Spokeswoman Katrina McGivern said the group prepared to work on educating legislators about the benefits of expanding Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor and disabled.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and many GOP legislators are vocal critics of the 2010 federal health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama, viewing its requirements as burdensome and damaging to the economy. They’ve also publicly questioned whether the federal government will keep its promise to fund most of the expansion.

Lawmakers last year included a ban on expanding Medicaid in budget legislation, but it expires in July 2015. The GOP-dominated Legislature passed a bill earlier this month extending the ban indefinitely, and Brownback signed it this week.

The new law says that the state can’t expand Medicaid without further action by the Legislature — something that’s not going to happen with Republican critics of the federal health overhaul holding majorities in both chambers.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who supports the measure, said it doesn’t take a position on expanding Medicaid but makes sure that the people’s elected representatives make the decision.

“And even with the governor’s best intentions, the widest diversity of information and opinion on this issue I think can be gleaned from 125 representatives and 40 senators each answering to their own constituency,” Rubin said.

But supporters note that expanding Medicaid would provide health coverage to about 78,000 Kansas residents.

“There’s just so many people out there that are suffering, and in poor health, and don’t have the access to the health care that they need and have a right to. And this would allow them to get the care they need and it also would provide a benefit as far as resources go,” McGivern said.

Some provisions in the bill set deadlines for the state’s Medicaid program to pay health care providers. Last year, the state turned over the administration of the program to three private health insurance companies, and some providers complained that they weren’t getting paid for the services they provide as promptly as in the past.

Senators added the extended ban on expanding Medicaid during their debate on the measure.

“There were no opportunities for people who have a stake in Medicaid expansion to come in and talk about it,” said Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, who helped draft the prompt-payment provisions but strongly opposes the measure blocking a Medicaid expansion.

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Online:

Information about the Medicaid expansion bill: http://bit.ly/1nuU10D

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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