It’s been noted that the Kansas Legislature is more polarized and rancorous than ever before.
That may be apparent in the latest effort to expand Medicare in the state. Under a compromise proposal, Kansas would expand state health coverage for the poor and disabled in line with the federal overhaul but would tax hospitals and clinics to raise any state dollars needed to attract extra federal funds.
The measure sponsored by the state House Vision 2020 Committee would allow Kansas to require able-bodied Medicaid participants to hold jobs or volunteer positions to receive coverage. The state also would be able to charge premiums for coverage.
The committee is unusual in the Republican-controlled House because it’s not dominated by GOP conservatives, and its chairman, Rep. Tom Sloan, of Lawrence, is more liberal than other Republicans. There is still strong opposition among top Republican legislators to expanding the state’s $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to about 368,000 people.
Sloan said the committee’s proposal, which would expand coverage to 169,000 more people, is designed to address the reasons many GOP legislators give for opposing a Medicaid expansion.
Hospitals are on board and support a new tax to draw down federal dollars. The bill would allow the state to pull $327 million from them over five years.
The federal government promises to pay the full cost of a state’s Medicaid expansion through 2016 and at least 90 percent after that.
Even conservatives have come out and said they would back some compromise. Even the state’s top GOP conservative Gov. Sam Brownback has said he’s open to proposals to expand Medicaid, which is now barred by state law. But he and other top Republicans question whether Kansas could raise any matching funds.
The state is facing a projected shortfall of nearly $600 million in its budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 after lawmakers aggressively cut personal income taxes at Brownback’s urging in 2012 and 2013 in a bid to stimulate the economy.
We could bicker about whose fault that shortfall is, that is a matter for another time.
It is crucial we take steps to assure more folks get the coverage they need. In this case, we have a compromise on the table and it is time for serious discussion so lawmakers can meet in the middle.