Politics & Government

Kansas can expand Medicaid in 2019, incoming governor says

Gov-elect Laura Kelly says she thinks Kansas can expand Medicaid in the coming year. A task force will develop her expansion proposal.

Kelly, a Democratic state senator who beat Republican Kris Kobach, made Medicaid expansion one of her top priorities on the campaign trail. The state-run federal program provides health care to people with low incomes or with disabilities.

“It’s not up to me to pass Medicaid expansion, it’s up to the Legislature to do that and I fully expect that they will address that issue this (next) year and if they put a bill on my desk and it does what it needs to do, I will sign it,” Kelly said in an interview Thursday.

For states that expand Medicaid eligibility to people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of expansion. For a family of four, 138 percent of the federal poverty level is $34,638 in annual income.

Kansas for years has declined to expand the program. Lawmakers approved expansion in 2017, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it.

Supporters are encouraged by Kelly’s election. Expansion legislation will now need only a simple majority to pass because Kelly would almost certainly sign the bill into law. Previously, lawmakers would have needed a supermajority in both the House and Senate because they would need to override the governor’s veto.

Kelly indicated during the interview that she plans to offer an expansion proposal.

“We will be putting together a Medicaid work group and we will look at what other states have done with expansion and how they’ve approached that and what the fiscal impacts have been and we will propose something we can do within our budget,” Kelly said.

Convening a group to develop a proposal makes more sense than her “sitting back in my office and deciding how things are going to look,” she said.

In 2017, Medicaid expansion supporters were able to pass expansion by forcing debate on it on the House floor.

Kelly would not say whether expansion legislation should go through the regular process.

“That’s really the Legislature’s decision to make,” Kelly said. “I just want the bill on my desk.”