Policy: Entitlements

Kansas Medicaid expansion urged; GOP not budging

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Associated Press,Kansas,Health Care,Medicare and Medicaid,Entitlements

TOPEKA, Kan. — Advocates for expanding Medicaid in Kansas staged a small Statehouse rally Monday, but the Republican-dominated Legislature still didn't seem much interested in taking up a proposal tied to the federal health care overhaul.

Supporters of an expansion argued during the rally that it could help 150,000 more Kansans obtain health coverage. Medicaid provides coverage for the poor and disabled, and backers of an expansion note the federal government has promised to pay almost all of the cost under the 2010 health care law championed by President Barack Obama.

About 50 people attended the rally, organized by local chapters of the liberal group MoveOn.org. Speakers argued that it's immoral for Kansas not to accept federal funds to help struggling families, and several wore black T-shirts saying, "Jesus would expand Medicaid."

"I know your friends and your family members, your loved ones, are affected by the lack of health care and insurance that they have," said state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat. "So, please, keep fighting for this issue."

The Legislature last year enacted a budget law prohibiting a Medicaid expansion through June 2015, and several key Republicans said Monday they don't see any change in sentiment. Kansas Republicans have criticized the Democratic president's signature domestic policy as burdensome, harmful to the economy and an example of federal overreach.

They've also been skeptical that the federal government will keep its funding promises.

"There's been no taste in the state of Kansas to implement Obamacare," said Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican.

So far, no proposal to expand Medicaid is headed toward even a committee vote. The Kansas Hospital Association is pushing lawmakers to discuss alternatives, such as using the extra federal dollars for Medicaid to subsidize private health coverage for consumers, an approach taken in Iowa and Arkansas.

Bruce Witt, a lobbyist for the Wichita-based Via Christi Health hospital system, said he's expecting a plan to emerge but acknowledged, "It might be something that doesn't happen until next year."

Many Republican lawmakers also are wary of expansion alternatives.

"It's just kind of a fancy way of expanding Medicaid," said House Health and Human Services David Crum, an Augusta Republican.

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