Politics & Government

Kansas House panel holds second hearing on Medicaid expansion

Jim Ward
Jim Ward The Wichita Eagle

Moderate Republicans are hoping they can convince Gov. Sam Brownback to support a Kansas plan to expand Medicaid.

The House Vision 2020 Committee held its second hearing Wednesday on expanding Medicaid, which provides health coverage and other services to low income and disabled people.

Efforts to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act have gained little traction in recent years. But Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said he is optimistic that his committee can craft a state-based compromise proposal that can get bipartisan support.

“I just think that we’re well past the time that we should be looking at how we develop a Kansas solution,” said Sloan, who chairs the committee.

“I definitely believe it’s feasible and I think it’s needed,” Sloan added.

Health and Environment Secretary Susan Mosier testified before the committee about KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid system, on Wednesday as Sloan and other lawmakers began the process of fact-finding.

Denise Cyzman, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, also addressed the committee, testifying that Medicaid expansion would increase the number of health-care jobs in Kansas, which would have a ripple effect through the economy.

Cyzman encouraged lawmakers to look at the examples from Michigan and other states where Republican leaders have expanded Medicaid, coupled with changes that made it more ideologically palatable for conservatives who otherwise oppose the Affordable Care Act. The federal government will pay roughly 90 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid.

In previous years, the Vision 2020 Committee has looked at water policy and other issues.

Sloan chose to start with Medicaid expansion this year because no other committee was working on the issue. The committee is one of few in the Legislature that is still dominated by moderates, who in recent years have seen their influence erode.

The committee hopes to have a bill expansion bill ready later in the legislative session. It is working with the Kansas Hospital Association, which supports expansion.

Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, an outspoken moderate, said the Brownback administration has said it is open to the discussion.

“I’m as confident as I can be on any bill. I don’t have 63 votes lined up yet because we don’t have a bill yet, so until we actually have a bill it’s difficult to say,” said Bollier, a physician.

Democrats already have a bill that would expand Medicaid immediately.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, the ranking Democrat on the House Health and Human Services Committee, introduced HB 2045, which would expand Medicaid to cover 150,000 additional Kansans, on Tuesday.

Ward introduced a similar bill last session that did not advance.

Sloan’s push might have better prospects. Any plan will still likely face an uphill battle.

Asked if House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, supported his efforts, Sloan said that was a question for Merrick and joked, “He doesn’t call me and say, ‘Thatta boy!’ or ‘Bad boy!’”

Merrick offered an e-mail statement when asked whether he supported the Vision 2020 Committee’s efforts to craft a plan, saying, “Any bill regarding the expansion of Medicaid will be directed to the Health Committee.”

That means Merrick does not plan to take the bill to the House floor directly from the Vision 2020 Committee.