A panel charged with overhauling the state's approach to better health agreed Tuesday to urge Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to insure more children in low-income families, make routine dental care available to the poor and fight childhood obesity.
The Kansas Health Policy Authority also planted the seed for expanding the state's Medicaid program to include thousands of adults whose hospital and emergency room bills are written off as uncollectible.
"These are some rather bold initiatives," said Sheldon Weisgrau, a senior analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, a health policy think tank.
In Kansas, adults who earn more than $3,626 a year are not eligible for Medicaid unless they're pregnant or disabled.
The state's eligibility threshold - 37 percent of the federal poverty guideline - is among the nation's lowest.
The health authority proposed raising the threshold to $9,800 by July 1, 2008.
Plans call for the health authority filing nine recommendations with the state budget office by Sept. 15.
Whether the governor includes the initiatives in the budget she'll send to the 2007 Legislature remains to the seen.
News of the recommendations irked Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.
"These are all nice, warm fuzzies," she said. "But how are we going to pay for them? It's easy to hand out other people's money."
Landwehr, a conservative, helped craft the legislation that created the authority.
"I'm disappointed," she said, noting that many of the proposals are open-ended and could end up costing the state more than projected.
Authority member Ray Davis, a health policy professor at Kansas University, disagreed.
"I'd say the actions taken today were in concert with what the Legislature instructed the authority to do - take responsibility for state health programs and make them efficient, good and accessible."
The initiatives proposed for next year include:
¢ Extending the state's HealthWave insurance program to cover children ages 5 and under in families earning less than 300 percent of the poverty level, or $49,800 for a family of three. The cost would be an additional $4 million.
Sebelius introduced a similar measure earlier this year, only to see it defeated in the Legislature.
¢ Adding regular dental care to the list of services available to adults on Medicaid.
Currently, Medicaid covers only emergency dental care for adults. Adding regular dental care coverage would cost the state $3.5 million per year.
¢ Adding obesity counseling to the list of covered services for children on Medicaid.
Studies have found that children on Medicaid are nearly six times more likely to be obese than children covered by private health insurance.
Covering obesity counseling would cost the state almost $600,000 per year.
The nine-member authority assumed oversight of most of the state's Medicaid programs - payments to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, mostly - and its insurance programs for state employees and uninsured children.