KHI News Service

Medicaid extension bill important to Kansas getting reworked

Support still not there in U.S. Senate for legislation that would mean $131 million for Kansas

By KHI NEWS SERVICE | June 16, 2010

An effort in the U.S. Senate to add back $24.2 billion in federal Medicaid assistance for states, including about $131 million for Kansas, was rejected today on a procedural test vote that sent Democratic leaders back to the drawing board.

Republicans, including Kansas U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, opposed added spending in H.R. 4213, because it would boost the budget deficit.

But several Democrats also voted against the amendment by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would have extended enhanced federal Medicaid assistance to states through June 30, 2011. The enhanced Medicaid matching dollars currently are scheduled to run out Dec. 31. The Baucus amendment would have increased the deficit by $78.7 billion.

Kansas is among more than 30 states that have already counted the still-uncertain Medicaid money in their budget plans.

And Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, has been among the state executives who have lobbied Congress to extend the aid.

“It is disappointing that the Senate has failed to recognize the importance of extending this assistance to the states," Parkinson said after Wednesday's vote. "This inaction in Washington has dire consequences to everyday Kansans and stalls our economic recovery. Without this federal assistance, our balanced state budget will be in jeopardy, potentially resulting in more layoffs and cuts to critical services, like education. Today was just one vote, however, and I will continue to work on this issue moving forward.”

The state has no contingency plan, should Congress not approve the money. But Parkinson has said without it as many as 4,000 teachers might lose their jobs.

Baucus told that a new version of the bill aimed at winning more votes would still include the Medicaid extension and would not rely on unused dollars from last year's stimulus package to offset its costs.

Brownback has said he would support the bill, if its costs were offset by cuts in other federal spending. Brownback is considered the frontrunner in the governor's race and, if elected, would have to deal with the hole in the state budget should Congress not approve the aid.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Maine Republican, has called for reducing the bill's cost by decreasing dollars that would be devoted to preventing a cut in Medicare rates paid to doctors.

Baucus has proposed funding the so-called "doc fix," through 2011, but could pare the legislation's cost by stalling those scheduled payment cut only through the end of the year.

The Medicare rate cut is scheduled to become effective Friday, if the Senate doesn't act before then.