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Governor urged to expand Medicaid eligibility

Coalition members present petition with more than 2,700 signatures

By Mike Shields | March 27, 2013

As part of an ongoing effort to persuade the state's reluctant Republican leadership, members of a coalition that includes more than 30 Kansas organizations were at the Statehouse today to present Gov. Sam Brownback a petition urging him to approve expansion of the state Medicaid program.

"Thousands of Kansans have voiced their support for covering more people in our state," said Anna Lambertson on behalf of the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition. "It is our hope that their voices will be heard by both the governor and the Kansas Legislature."

But the governor told news reporters he continues to be concerned about the potential long-term costs of adding people to Medicaid, which in Kansas is known as KanCare.

"We've got to be able to afford it. That's the bottom line," he said.

Supporters of the expansion said because of federal aid it would cost the state nothing or relatively little in the first three years and could provide an economic boost by making people healthier and more productive while adding new jobs.

They said their own efforts and a recent survey done for the Kansas Hospital Association suggested most Kansans would support opening up the program to include people earning up to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Kansas currently has some of the tightest program restrictions in the nation.

Signature drive continues

Lambertson said the petition included more than 2,700 signatures and that the group continued to collect more.

The coalition held a press conference on the second floor of the Capitol, near the governor's suites. Brownback strolled by as the members were setting up on his way to a meeting and chatted briefly with Lambertson and others.

He did not address the crowd of about 60 people gathered for the event, but Lambertson later said he had asked her if he could accept the petition from her directly while they spoke instead of waiting until after the group's press conference because he wouldn't be available after the event.

Gov. Sam Brownback chatted briefly with Anna Lambertson of the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition prior to the group's press conference Wednesday at the Statehouse. The coalition delivered a petition with more than 2,700 signatures urging expansion of the state Medicaid program, which currently has among the tightest restrictions in the nation.

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She said she had been in earlier contact with members of the governor's staff to make the coalition's case for opening up Medicaid eligibility. She said she was hopeful she and others would get a chance to make the case directly with the governor.

In separate comments to reporters, Brownback said he was watching Arkansas, where state officials have proposed using federal Medicaid dollars that would be available for expanding the program to instead use it to help people buy private health coverage.

The director of the Arkansas Medicaid program is Andy Allison who had a similar post in Kansas when Brownback first took office.

"We're looking at everything," Brownback said. "What I want to do is something we can afford to carry the freight on long term. ."

He compared the federal promise to cover the full cost of Medicaid expansion for newly eligible enrollees to buying something with no payment down the first year.

"But what about after the year," he said.

Lisa Ochs of Topeka, center, was among about 60 people who came to the Statehouse in support of Medicaid expansion. She is a member of the American Federation of Teachers-Kansas.

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'What kind of system?'

Besides Lambertson, three people spoke to the small crowd gathered in the rotunda.

Mari White of Topeka said her husband lost his job due to advancing disease and her 10-year-old son had been diagnosed with the same degenerative disorder. A 21-year-old son is autistic and she has health problems of her own. Because of the families various health issues they are "uninsurable." She said she was the sole breadwinner for the family, taking home about $500 a month as a part-time nurse.

"What kind of a system allows things like this," she said.

White said her family currently isn't eligible for Medicaid but could be if the program were broadened.

Jon Stewart, chief executive of Heartland Community Health Center in Lawrence, said expanding Medicaid would be "an investment in prevention."

For now, he said, the U.S. spends more money on health care than any other nation with disappointing results.

"We are spending our money on cures, not prevention," he said.

Dr. Brandan Kennedy, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, said he often saw sick children whose parents had delayed seeing the doctor because they lacked health insurance or who relied on hospital emergency rooms.

"By denying the federal (Medicaid) expansion we will essentially be denying our children's right to health," he said.

'Optimistic

Many GOP legislators, including House Speaker Ray Merrick, have made clear they have no interest in expanding Medicaid and at this point in the legislative session it seems unlikely -though not impossible- that it could be approved in time for 2014.

Anna Lambertson talked with Statehouse news reporters about efforts to expand the state Medicaid program.

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Lambertson said she remained "optimistic" lawmakers would come to agree with the coalition yet this year and if not the group would push for expansion in 2015.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who introduced a bill early in the session to expand the program said he thought public momentum was building in support of expansion.

"The problem is each year we let go by we lose $380 million. So, if we don’t do it this year we can still do it next year but there is $380 million less for the program. If we do it in two years, we lose $380 million times two. If we don’t do it for three years we lose $380 million times three. Look at the groups that are behind this, the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses, the pharmacists a lot of chambers of commerce. There is very little opposition to Medicaid expansion (outside the Statehouse). You’re not getting much push back.”

KHI News Service coverage of Medicaid expansion

Medicaid Access Coalition launches online "ticker" showing foregone federal dollars (2/13/14)
→ KHI report: Nearly 182,000 Kansans in the ‘Eligibility Gap’ (1/11/14)
House speaker says Medicaid expansion is "up to the governor" (1/10/14)
KS Senate president says Medicaid expansion unlikely to gain approval this session (1/7/14)
Profiles of the coverage gap: Kathleen Christian (1/6/14)
Efforts continue to expand Medicaid in Kansas and Missouri (1/6/14)
Hospital association hires former Bush HHS secretary to help craft a plan Kansas Republicans might support (12/23/13)
Iowa wins approval to expand Medicaid by using federal funds to buy private insurance (12/11/13)
White House officials hold call to urge Medicaid expansion in Kansas (11/21/13)
Republican governor talks up plan to expand Medicaid — his way (10/28/13)
Challenger says Brownback owes voters a decision on Medicaid expansion (10/22/13)
Nearly 5.2M Americans fall in coverage gap in states not expanding Medicaid (10/16/13)
Sebelius: Feds flexible on how states expand Medicaid (9/22/13)
Sebelius says Kansas and Missouri are missing the boat on Medicaid expansion (9/20/13)
Medicaid expansion coalition finds strength in numbers (9/17/13)
Republican Gov. Corbett proposes expanding Pennsylvania Medicaid (9/16/13)
Kansas lawmakers urged to consider Medicaid expansion by Wesley CEO (8/29/13)
Estimating maneuver could help more people gain from Obamacare: How the poor might qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies in states that don't expand Medicaid (8/12/13)
Report: States not expanding Medicaid stand to benefit most from doing so (7/18/13)
CMS won’t penalize hospitals in states slow to expand Medicaid (5/14/13)
Insurer Centene: We can do Arkansas-style Medicaid (5/14/13)
The Arkansas Medicaid Model: What you need to know about the 'private option' (5/2/13)
Nothing to be done about coverage gap in states not expanding Medicaid, feds say (4/29/13)
Brownback says he's listening to Medicaid expansion proponents, opponents (4/5/13)
Oregon shows costs of putting Medicaid enrollees in private coverage (3/29/13)
Governor urged to expand Medicaid eligibility (3/27/13)
Arkansas Medicaid expansion attracts other states' interest (3/26/13)
Senate president prefers options remain open on Medicaid expansion (3/25/13)
States urged to expand Medicaid with private insurance (3/22/13)
Senate budget amendment underscores opposition to Medicaid expansion (3/21/13)
Study: Kansas employers face millions a year in possible penalties without Medicaid expansion (3/15/13)
More than 30 Kansas groups pushing for Medicaid expansion (3/12/13)
Health insurers see big opportunities in health law’s Medicaid expansion (3/8/13)
Medicaid expansion supporters to step up lobbying efforts (3/7/13)
Budget committee hears resolution opposing Medicaid expansion (2/22/13)
Legislators focusing on Medicaid expansion cost estimates (2/19/13)
Kansas hospital group study predicts expanding Medicaid would generate 4,000 jobs (2/18/13)
Brownback officials release their cost projections for Medicaid expansion (2/8/13)
Medicaid expansion bill introduced (1/22/13)
Kansas hospitals worried about loss of dollars for charity care (1/14/13)
Brownback compiling own estimate of Medicaid expansion cost (12/20/12)
Group urges Brownback to expand Medicaid eligibility (11/9/12)
Debate begins on possible Kansas Medicaid expansion (10/25/12)
Amerigroup CEO says states ‘need’ to go along with Medicaid expansion (7/11/12)
Kansas hospitals ready to get on with federal health reform, spokesman says (7/2/12)
Kansas AG claims partial victory in health reform case (6/29/12)
High court upholds Affordable Care Act, but ruling puts limits on Medicaid expansion (6/28/12)

Commentary
→ Kansas Hospital Association: An opportunity for the Kansas Medicaid program
→ Americans for Prosperity-Kansas: Well-intentioned policies do more harm than good
→ Health Reform Resource Project: The cost of not expanding Medicaid
→ Rep. Jim Ward: Medicaid expansion essential for healthier Kansas
→ Rep. David Crum: Reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion
→ National Academy for State Health Policy: Much ado about Arkansas: Medicaid in the insurance exchange

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