By John Celock
A floor amendment to a relatively minor health bill will lead to a new round of Medicaid expansion hearings in Kansas.
Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) proposed an amendment on the House floor Thursday morning to allow Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to enter into a Medicaid expansion without legislative approval and directed state officials to develop a Medicaid waiver proposal. Following assurances from legislative leaders that the Health and Human Services Committee would hold hearings on the Medicaid expansion, Ward withdrew the amendment. Ward’s amendment came on a bill to allow for Medicaid to reimburse hospitals for donor breast milk for children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“Legislation in recent years from governor taking Medicaid expansion without legislative approval, this put back into the governor’s hands and directs KDHE to develop a waiver for CMS to expand Medicaid in a Kansas way and provides what Kansas wants with vouchers for exchanges, work training, healthy workforce,” Ward said.
Ward said that under the bill the state Department of Health and Environment will be able to develop a waiver to the federal government for a Kansas designed Medicaid expansion program. He explained that it would likely be a “red state model” program, citing similar programs that were implemented in Arkansas and Indiana.
Ward withdrew the amendment following assurances from House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) and Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) that hearing would be held this year in front of the health committee.
Ward is the ranking minority member of the Health and Human Services Committee.
Opponents of Ward’s amendment noted that they did not think the Medicaid expansion proposal should be debated on the floor but rather receive a hearing from the health panel.
“This is not the time or place to have a discussion on a policy so substantive and so impactful,” Rep. Don Hill (R-Emporia) said. “The bill needs to have a hearing and be fully vetted in the health committee.”
House Insurance Committee Chairman Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took to the floor that he was concerned about taking authority away from the Legislature and handing it to the governor and his administration. He said the prospect of handing them authority makes him “nauseous.”
“You are taking our entire legislative authority and giving it to the governor,” he said.
Schwab said that he would like to see a Medicaid expansion that helps those across the state. He noted that he would like to seek those seeking medical care in their later years.
“I’d love to see a Medicaid expansion program that took those families off Medicaid in the long term and those resources can be used for those folks who have expended their resources and need that care until their days are gone,” Schwab said.
Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills), who was carrying the breast milk bill, said that she did not know about Ward’s amendment in advance. A retired physician, Bollier noted that she has been pushing for a hearing.
The House Vision 2020 Committee has held hearings on Medicaid this year, but none has been held in the Health and Human Services Committee. The Vision 2020 Committee has developed Medicaid expansion legislation in addition to legislation that Ward had introduced earlier this year.
The Vision 2020 Committee routinely holds hearings on various issues seeking to develop solutions to longer-term issues facing the state. Among the issues discussed by the committee have been Medicaid expansion, rural health care, water policy and transportation. The committee is not viewed as particularly powerful. Among the committee’s legislative successes last year was a bill to designate a state fossil.
Ward has been the Legislature’s leading advocate for the Medicaid expansion. He said that the assurances from Merrick and Hawkins led him to withdraw his amendment on the floor.
“People in this House know I care deeply about Medicaid expansion,” Ward said. “With those assurances, I withdraw the amendment.”