Government
6:09 am
Wed April 3, 2013

Lawmakers Mulling Medicaid Expansion

Starting next year, states will be able to take part in a sweeping expansion of the health care program Medicaid, and the federal government will pick up most of the cost. But it's still not clear if that expansion will take place in Kansas, where the state's Medicaid program is known as KanCare. 

As Lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback consider the expansion, some Kansans are trying to make their voices heard.

THE PLIGHT OF MARI WHITE

Dozens of supporters of expanding Medicaid gathered at the Statehouse last week, including Topekan Mari White. She’s one of the people on the outside looking in at the process, and says she is extremely frustrated.

"I’m watching my husband deteriorate. I’m watching my health deteriorate," says White. "Without medical care, both of us are going to have major, major, major problems.”

White is 52, she works part time as a nurse while she attends graduate school. Her husband lost his job, and that cost them their health insurance. She says her husband has a genetic nerve disease. He could work a different job, but he’d need training and medical care first.

White says with her small salary, a college fund for their young son and a retirement plan, she and her husband don’t qualify for Medicaid.

“We’ve got over $3,000 worth of expenses if you count medication and treatment and everything else going out, and $500 a month coming in," she says. "And they’re saying we make too much.”

White says they don’t want to be people on public assistance indefinitely, but expanding Medicaid so they could get health care services would be the help they need to get back on their feet.

“We just need a temporary boost. We need a little window just to get us until I can get into the workforce, until he can get retrained and he can get a job in teaching."

THE MEDICAID SAFETY NET

Currently, more than 350,000 Kansans are on Medicaid, most of them are low-income children. Medicaid also serves pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income adults.

Expanding Medicaid could make 200,000 more Kansans eligible.

White was at the Statehouse as part of an event to present petitions with thousands of signatures to Governor Brownback’s office, urging him to expand the program.

THE CHOICE TO EXPAND

Though Republicans control both chambers and the governorship in Kansas, in some other states Republican governors have decided to expand Medicaid.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican from Stilwell, is against an expansion.

But Republican Senate President Susan Wagle said recently that she isn't ready to sign on to now, but that Kansas should look more closely at the idea.

“There could be a Kansas- based solution that evolves as we look at our federal options under Obamacare," she says.

“Kansas is losing out, and it does affect out health care industry and it does affect the quality of our services. So, it’s something we’re going to look at in the Kansas Senate.”

Under the health care law, the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years, then it would fall, but it would never go below 90 percent.

Gov. Brownback has not committed either way on an expansion, but he is looking at what other states are doing.

“People are saying ‘well, what about the free money up front?’ Yes, but what about paying for it on the long term?" he says. "This is like, ‘no payment down for a year.’ Ok, but what about after the year?”

Sen. Susan Wagle says even if officials choose to expand Medicaid, the state will likely miss the first year of federal expansion that starts in 2014.