Kansas House advances Medicaid expansion bill; final action set for Thursday

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? The Kansas House voted by an overwhelming margin Wednesday to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, even as President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are actively working to repeal that law.

The House voted 85-40 to add language from a bill that had been blocked in committee onto another health care-related bill. After hours of debate, it then voted 83-40 to advance the amended bill onto final action, which is scheduled for Thursday.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward had offered a motion Tuesday to bring the original bill out of committee. A vote on that motion, which was expected Wednesday morning, would have required 70 votes for passage.

But Ward withdrew that motion Wednesday after conversations with Republican leaders who agreed to put another bill on the floor that could be amended.

It was the second major defeat in the House for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who has consistently opposed Obamacare and has worked hard to prevent as much of it as possible from being implemented in Kansas.

In addition, the House also passed, 72-53, a bill that would reinstate teacher tenure rights, also known as due process rights, which protect them from being fired or not renewed for the following year without sufficient cause. Lawmakers repealed that law in 2014.

Earlier in the day, the House voted 85-40 to override his veto of a bill that would have reversed many of the tax cuts he championed in 2012, but that override attempt failed a few hours later in the Senate.

The bill would expand eligibility to the Kansas Medicaid program, known as KanCare, to all individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $27,821 a year for a family of three. State officials estimate that would extend coverage to an additional 181,000 people in Kansas.

State Medicaid officials have said that when fully implemented, it could add about $56 million a year to the state’s share of Medicaid cost, but it would bring in close to $1 billion a year in additional federal reimbursement. That’s because, under the law as it stands now, the federal government would pay 90 percent or more of the cost of covering people in the expansion group.

The expansion of Medicaid still would require action from the Senate before it could become law.

Opponents of the bill had argued, among other things, that expanding Medicaid now would be pointless because the Affordable Care Act, which makes expansion possible, will soon be repealed in Washington.

Ward, however, said he thinks there’s a realistic chance that the portion of the Obamacare law that allows Medicaid expansion will remain intact.

“Thirty-one states have already expanded and they’re fighting hard to keep the expansion dollars in whatever form it turns into, or if it turns into anything, and it’s just a question of how big a piece of the pie will Kansas have,” he said. “Today we made a big step forward in getting our share.”