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Dec. 23, 2013
Photo by Dan Bammes / KUER.org
TOPEKA The Kansas Hospital Association has hired former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to help craft a Medicaid expansion plan that Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislators might support.
Tom Bell, KHA’s president and CEO, said he hopes that Leavitt — a former Republican governor of Utah who headed HHS under former President George W. Bush — can help Kansas policymakers craft a plan similar to those developed in Arkansas and Iowa, which expand Medicaid through the use of private insurance companies.
“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,” Bell said.
Bell said Leavitt has agreed to help promote discussion among legislators and those in the health care industry about expanding Medicaid, which in Kansas is called KanCare.
“He (Leavitt) would be willing to personally come into the state and sit down with policymakers and others and talk about what he sees happening in other states and talk about it from his perspective as a former HHS secretary and as a former governor,” Bell said.
The Iowa Medicaid expansion plan — which was approved earlier this month by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — uses federal dollars to finance the purchase of private health insurance for low income people made eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Photo courtesy Kansas Hospital Association
Iowans above the poverty line — those making more than $11,490 a year — will pay a small portion of their insurance premiums. Those below the line will pay nothing. The federal government initially will cover the cost of their coverage. Over time, about 10 percent of that cost will be transferred to Iowa taxpayers in keeping with the provisions of the health reform law.
Kansas hospitals will miss out on an estimated $66 million that they would have received in 2014 had the state decided to participate in the first year of expansion, Bell said.
“Beginning in 2014 we will, in effect, be sending some of our tax dollars to states that have expanded Medicaid,” he said.
Kansas currently has some of the nation’s strictest Medicaid eligibility standards. Adults with no children are not eligible for Medicaid no matter how poor they are. Adults with children are eligible but only if they earn less than 32 percent of poverty, about $630 a month for a three-person household.
The Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of the KHI News service, estimates that expansion would make approximately 85,300 currently uninsured Kansans eligible for Medicaid.
Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t closed the door on Medicaid expansion, but neither has he given any indication that he is prepared to move forward with it. During an interview broadcast on Sunday by WIBW television, the governor said he was waiting to see how flexible the federal government was willing to be with states.
“I haven’t declared one way or the other because I don’t know that all the cards are out on the table,” Brownback said.
Brownback’s Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis recently criticized the governor for not making his position on Medicaid expansion clear to Kansas voters.
“I’m just not sure what the governor’s position is because he’s said he’s constantly undecided about this,” Davis said. “I think he needs to take a position.”
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle could be a key to whatever negotiations take place. The Wichita Republican has indicated that she is open to considering a Medicaid expansion plan similar to those developed in Arkansas and Iowa.
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