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Lawmakers To Debate KanCare Expansion Amid Obamacare Repeal Uncertainty

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio/File photo

KanCare expansion advocates say confusion in Washington, D.C., is helping their cause as they gear up for Statehouse hearings this week on an expansion bill.

They say legislation sponsored by several Republican U.S. senators that would retain parts of the Affordable Care Act is evidence that some in the GOP are having second thoughts. So too is the fact that Republican governors in Indiana and Ohio are seeking approval from the Trump administration to keep their expanded programs in place.

“It just seems like every day there is one more signal that this [repeal] isn’t a done deal,” said Tom Bell, president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association. “This is a really fluid situation and I think it would be a huge mistake for Kansas not to get itself in a position to take advantage of it.”

To that end, representatives of more than a dozen health care providers and business organizations are lining up to testify this week during three days of hearings in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

The hearings will take place at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday in room 112-North at the Statehouse.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, the Wichita Republican who chairs the committee, said he scheduled the hearings to give expansion supporters — who increased their ranks in the last election — a chance to make their case even though he views debating the bill as an exercise in futility.

“I don’t want to poison the well by saying that, but I think that it is,” Hawkins said. “Even if it passes, which I think it might, it can’t go anywhere.”

Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer also sees the hearings as a fool’s errand.

“Obamacare/Expansion will soon be dead,” Colyer said in a December tweet. “Time will bring clarity from D.C.”

Undeterred, expansion supporters say waiting to see what happens in Washington is the worst thing that Kansas lawmakers could do.

Credit Jeff Colyer Twitter

“We lose nothing by expanding KanCare, but we stand to lose billions of dollars in the future if we don’t,” said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a nonprofit advocacy group funded by several regional health foundations. He noted that Kansas has foregone nearly $1.7 billion in the last three years by not expanding KanCare.

To date, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs. Kansas is among 19 that haven’t.

The bill under consideration — House Bill 2064 — would extend eligibility for the state’s privatized Medicaid program to approximately 150,000 Kansans with annual incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,000 for an individual.

It also could help the state solve its budget problems, according to supporters.

An analysis done by the hospital association, which opponents are likely to challenge, said the state would be responsible for only about $58 million of expansion’s approximately $1 billion annual cost. But the report said because expansion would generate about $127 million in budget savings and economic growth, the state would be able to cover its share of the costs and have about $70 million left to spend on other priorities.

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks