Kansas GOP, Democrats Make Deal to Expand Medicaid by 150,000

(CN) – Kansas will likely expand Medicaid up to 150,000 additional residents, according to a deal struck Thursday between Republican state legislators and Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.

While a deal has been reached, it still must be approved by the Kansas Legislature. The announcement comes two years after former Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a Medicaid expansion bill.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kelly and GOP Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park butted heads last year over the state budget but stood side by side in the state Capitol on Thursday to announce the deal.

“Senator Denning and I did not end the 2019 legislative session on particularly friendly terms, but we kept at it,” Kelly said. “We kept talking and the result is the proposal you have before you today.”

The expansion will consist of parts of 2017’s failed bill, as well as new ideas from Kelly and Republicans. The plan will expand eligibility to Kansas households with incomes of up to 138% of the federal poverty level, $25,750 for a family of four. If passed, the bill will take effect by Jan. 1, 2021.

Kansas is one of 14 states that have no adopted Medicaid expansion following the passage of 2010’s Affordable Care Act. The federal government will cover 90% of the expansion costs, with the remaining to be paid by an annual $35 million hospital surcharge.

Kelly and Denning said 22 Republican and 11 Democratic senators agreed to co-sponsor the bill in a rare showing of bipartisan support.

“It’s a lot easier to get to ‘no’ than it is to get to ‘yes,’ but this is what governing looks like,” Denning said. “There’s lots of robust health care solutions inside this compromise bill. We’ll try to get it across the Senate floor first and then the House.”

The proposal does not contain a work requirement for eligibility as championed for by conservative legislators, but does implement a plan to reduce insurance premiums for private health plans. It also sets up an advisory panel to help rural hospitals, several of which have closed in recent years due to uninsured residents who can’t afford to pay.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, opposes the plan. She believes it expands a broken system.

“That is, the escalating cost of health insurance and the ever increasing out of pocket deductibles that prop up Obamacare,” Wagle said in a statement. “Socialized government-run health care is not the answer for Kansans. Health care reform is.”

Kelly White, a certified nursing aide in Olathe, said she welcomes an expansion because many people can’t afford the increasing cost of health care.

“There’s so many out there who need care, but they won’t go to a hospital because it will break them financially,” White said. “It’s especially true with the elderly and children from low-income homes.”

Denning said the deal represents a rare compromise between the two parties. The Republican had long opposed Medicaid expansion but faces a tough reelection battle this year against Democrat Cindy Holscher and has come out in favor of expansion likely to appeal more moderate voters. Several Democrats picked up seats in the Legislature in 2018, including the U.S. House district in Denning’s state district.

“We’ll be working with our respective caucuses in the coming days to get their feedback and buy-in,” Denning said. “But all sides can find something in this bill to like. That means it’s probably about as middle of the road as it can get.”

The two sides have been working behind the scenes on the deal for the last three months. Kelly said they will continue to push for it as it goes through lawmakers’ hands.

“This process is far from over, as there are still several critical steps to be taken by the Kansas Legislature,” Kelly said. “Compromise is hard. It is messy. It is slow. And, it is worth it.”

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