Governor Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning unveiled a bipartisan proposal for Medicaid expansion Thursday.
The plan shows a measure of compromise between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature, including provisions for job training and a reinsurance program designed to reduce premiums for private health insurance plans found on the marketplace exchange.
“Compromise is hard. It’s messy and it’s slow, but it is so worth it,” Kelly said during a press conference. “While this announcement does not automatically translate into a bill signing, I am more optimistic than ever that Kansas will reach that point.”
Although the House passed an expansion plan last year, Denning and other Senate Republicans refused to move the bill out of committee, citing concerns over potential costs and administration.
“In the spirit of compromise, we have a really good, complete plan,” Denning said.
A majority of Kansas lawmakers support some form of Medicaid expansion, which would extend coverage to an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 Kansas adults and children and unlock a billion dollars in annual federal funding. More than two dozen Republicans and Democrats, from both the House and Senate, stood with Kelly and Denning for the announcement at the Capitol.
Senator Jeff Longbine, a Republican from Emporia, attended Thursday’s press conference. He said he was optimistic that the bill would move successfully through the Senate. He said a number of compromises were made in order to come to an agreement that was favorable to both parties.
“There are some differences that were important that allowed the bipartisan agreement to come together,” Longbine said. “It does expand Medicaid in the State of Kansas up to 138 percent of federal poverty level. That is very, very important to the currently uninsured that fall within that category; it’s important to those who may be the working poor. Between Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning and the governor working out the details, a compromise was made. Not everybody got what they want, but I think we’ve developed a really good plan to the benefit of the most important Kansans who are left in a gap, but also this will be very beneficial to our medical providers, to mental health and to our hospitals.”
Longbine said the bill’s job training component would provide a pathway for unemployed individuals to obtain job training or employment via a job match program through the Department of Commerce. The goal, he said, is to get as many people employed as possible. Conservative Republicans at the Statehouse opposed to expansion had sought a rigid work mandate for able-bodied adults without children. Kelly and other Medicaid expansion advocates have stated such requirements are unnecessary barriers to coverage.
The bill also includes a $35 million annual hospital surcharge that was endorsed by the Kansas Hospital Association and has earned backing of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, the state’s largest Medicaid expansion coalition. Longbine said the plan will help lower the cost of the program to the state’s general fund while still providing additional revenue to the hospitals and providers.
Longbine said the Kelly-Denning bill also includes a reinsurance program that could reduce premiums for privately-insured Kansans by up to 20 percent.
“Those Kansans who make more than what would be covered by expanded Medicaid and, therefore, are not eligible would have some premium reduction on individual policies purchased on the ACA exchange,” Longbine said.
Longbine applauded the governor’s willingness to discuss a reinsurance provision, as that was something Kelly had voiced opposition to just last month during a visit to Newman Regional Health.
“I think that’s a very important component and I commend the governor for being open-minded enough to discuss that and realizing that it’s something that can be in the program,” he said.
The bill, which was set to be introduced today, could be voted on within a few weeks if it comes out of committee. With a number of co-sponsors and commitments to vote in favor of expansion, Longbine said he anticipates the bill would pass through the Senate if given the chance.
Representative Mark Schreiber, also a Republican from Emporia, said he had not yet heard many details about the bill, but was hopeful to see it come to the House for debate.
“I’m glad Sen. Denning and Gov. Kelly were able to meet and really negotiate out a plan that might work — I haven’t seen the details, but several of the pieces seem positive,” he said. “Whenever it shows up at the House, it’s going to be probably a similar debate that we’ve had for the last two or three years. There are some folks that just don’t want to see Medicaid expanded and they have their reasons for that. There are others — and I’m in that camp — that think we should do that. I think it has a good chance in the House, it’s just a matter of what’s in the bill when we see it and what comes over and when we can debate it.”
Schreiber said he was interested in learning more about the reinsurance program outlined in the bill.
“It’s an interesting concept and it sounds like it has that potential to hold down the premiums and costs of health insurance a little bit,” he said. “I’m hopeful there.”
Overall, he said the compromise was what good public policy was all about.
“I think that’s how good public policy occurs is when two opposing sides come together and work out the details,” Schreiber said. “Everybody feels like they protected their issues, but yet they understand that we need to do something. This sounds like a good compromise.”
If passed, the expansion goes into effect no later than Jan. 1, 2021.
“It’s a big win at the end of the day, if we get this passed through legislature,” Longbine said. “I’m optimistic and hopeful that we can get it through.”