Kansas health care advocates urge rejection of latest GOP health bill

photo by: Peter Hancock

Protesters gathered outside U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran's district office in Olathe Wednesday, June 28, 2017, urging him to vote against a Republican-backed bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Health care advocates in Kansas are turning up the pressure on the state’s two U.S. senators to reject the latest version of a health care overhaul, even though one GOP senator, Pat Roberts, has already endorsed the plan.

Fellow Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas has not staked out a position on the latest plan, although he opposed the first Senate plan in June.

The Kansas Hospital Association and the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas both issued statements opposing the plan, the details of which were unveiled Thursday.

The plan, officially known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, or BCRA, is the Senate Republicans’ attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“The bottom line is that the changes Senate leadership made to the BCRA do little to alleviate the harm the plan will wreak on Kansas,” David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said in an email statement Thursday afternoon. “We urge both Senators Moran and Roberts to do what’s best for Kansans and oppose this harmful plan.”

One of the key issues for Kansas in any Obamacare overhaul bill will be how states that chose not to expand Medicaid are treated.

Under Obamacare, states have the option of expanding eligibility for Medicaid to anyone in a household with income below 138 percent of the poverty level, and the federal government pays 90-95 percent of the cost of covering those people. That threshold translates to $16,642 per year for a single person or $28,180 for a family of three.

Kansas has never taken advantage of that option, despite strong public pressure on lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback to do so. The Kansas Legislature did pass a Medicaid expansion bill this year with large bipartisan majorities, but Brownback vetoed it and the House was unable to override his veto.

Under the new Senate bill, the option would be taken away because no state would be allowed to expand that hasn’t already done so. Furthermore, states that did expand would not be allowed to add any more new people after Dec. 31. And for those people already in the expansion group, it would gradually scale down the federal matching rate to each state’s regular Medicaid matching rate.

For nonexpansion states like Kansas, though, the new GOP plan would offer increased federal payments to hospitals and safety net clinics.

According to information from Roberts’ office, that would amount to $619 million over the next eight years, and he cited that as one of the reasons why he supports the bill.

“This bill ensures that non-expansion states like Kansas will have help,” he said in a news release. “All Medicaid providers and especially the more than 60 Kansas hospitals serving a larger portion of Medicaid patients and the uninsured will have access to $619 million to serve those most in need. Under Obamacare, these providers will continue to receive nothing.”

The Kansas Hospital Association, however, says that’s not enough.

“Although we appreciate the Senate’s effort to close the gap for non-expansion states, the additional funds are hugely inadequate and do not compare to the dollars afforded to expansion states,” the organization said in a news release Friday. “Even with the revisions, the equity funding gap is approximately $5.6 billion over 8 years.”

An official in Moran’s office said he is still analyzing the bill and has not decided whether or not to support it.