Thursday, November 21, 2013

Democrats urge expansion of Medicaid in Kansas

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Democrats on Thursday urged Republican leaders in Kansas to change course and expand Medicaid to cover 100,000 Kansans.

"There is no justification for continuing to block Medicaid expansion," said Josh Earnest, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary.

He was joined in a telephone news conference with state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

"We have constituents that need this insurance," Ballard said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand the income eligibility limits for Medicaid, the government-funded health coverage for low-income people. Under the reform law, the federal government would pay for the expansion for three years, and no less than 90 percent after that.

Twenty-six states have expanded, but most states headed by Republican governors, such as Kansas, haven't.

Brownback and Republican legislative leaders oppose the ACA. During debate on the issue during the 2013 legislative session, Republicans said they feared the federal government wouldn't fulfill its funding commitment because of ongoing budget problems.

But Earnest said the federal commitment is solid. "This is a really good deal for the state of Kansas," he said. He said he hoped governors would "put the interests of their states ahead of politics," and that President Obama's administration is willing to negotiate with individual states about different approaches to expanding health coverage.

Ballard and Earnest said they understand there is frustration with the recent glitch-plagued rollout of the ACA website, but they said the expansion of Medicaid has gone smoothly.

Facing a large Republican majority in the Legislature, Ballard said expanding Medicaid in Kansas will be difficult. But Ballard added, "We can't lose sight of the fact that 100,000 people who are uninsured today could gain access and coverage by 2016." The question becomes, "Why are we not giving these Kansans the insurance that they need," she said.