Medicaid expansion fight delays work on Kansas budget

Vote pushed to May
Medicaid expansion fight delays work on Kansas budget

A legislative fight over expanding Medicaid in Kansas is delaying approval of the state’s next annual budget as expansion supporters try to keep Republican opponents from blocking it for another year.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka notified the Senate Friday that he will attempt to pull a Medicaid expansion bill out of committee. Hensley made the move just before lawmakers adjourned for their annual spring break. Senators will vote when lawmakers reconvene May 1 and Hensley will need 24 of 40 votes to succeed.

Some top GOP lawmakers are conceding that an expansion plan could pass because expansion is a priority for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and has bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Legislature. However, opponents hope for time this summer and fall to develop a smaller program than Kelly wants with restrictions she opposes, such as a work requirement for participants.

Expansion became a sticking point in budget negotiations between the House and Senate, causing lawmakers to put off votes until May on any part of the state’s spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning in July. Potential expansion costs are hotly debated, but the disagreement in budget talks is over how much to tie Kelly’s hands as she pursues expansion this year.

“We have a Democrat governor,” Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican. “There will be a time when we won’t be able to maneuver around it.”

Supporters argue that Medicaid expansion will benefit working-class families, help struggling rural hospitals and boost the economy with an influx of federal funds. Opponents predict expansion will prove far more expensive than advertised, even with the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act’s promise that the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost.

Thirty-six states, including GOP-led ones, have expanded Medicaid or have seen voters approve ballot initiatives.

In Kansas, Republicans who oppose expansion still hold key positions in both chambers and prevented even a committee vote for weeks. However, supporters forced a debate in the House last month, and it passed a modified version of Kelly’s expansion plan over GOP leaders’ objections.