Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Report: Kansas hospitals hire lobbyist to push Medicaid expansion

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — The Kansas Hospital Association has hired a former Republican cabinet secretary to develop a plan for expanding Medicaid that the group hopes Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-led Kansas Legislature can support.

According to a report by the KHI News Service, the hospital association has hired Mike Leavitt, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush, to develop a plan similar to plans already adopted in Iowa and Arkansas.

"We ought to as a state be having a conversation about whether we can come up with a plan like that and the reality is that conversation just hasn't happened yet," KHA president and CEO Tom Bell was quoted as saying.

The federal Affordable Care Act originally called for expanding Medicaid to include everyone with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's $15,856 a year for a single individual, or $26,951 for a family of three.

The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled, however, that since Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, Congress could not mandate such an expansion, but could only make it optional for states.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of the expansion for the first three years, starting in 2014, and gradually reduce its share to 90 percent of the cost.

Kansas is among 22 states that so far have not opted to take part in the expansion.

Kansas also has one of the strictest eligibility standards for its Medicaid program, now known as KanCare. The income limit for a family of three is $5,148 a year, or about 26 percent of the poverty level. Working-age adults without children are not eligible.

Iowa and Arkansas, which are both led by Republican governors, have adopted plans that will use the new federal funds to help purchase private health insurance for those newly-eligible individuals.

The Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of KHI News Service, estimates that 85,300 Kansans who are currently uninsured would gain coverage through the expansion.

So far, Brownback has not proposed taking advantage of the expansion, but also has not stated publicly that he opposes it.

"I've not declared a position on it because you're seeing the federal government adjust monthly, Obamacare," Brownback told reporters earlier this month. "They may adjust this one."

But KHA's Bell said Kansas is turning away money by not taking part in the expansion.

"Beginning in 2014 we will, in effect, be sending some of our tax dollars to states that have expanded Medicaid," Bell said.