By John Celock
A Kansas legislative committee announced that hearings into Medicaid expansion would be held March 18 and 19.
The House Health and Human Services Committee announced the hearings following a deal reached last week to hold hearings in exchange for a Democrat to withdraw a Medicaid expansion amendment from the floor. The hearings will be the second set held this year, following hearings held by a powerless strategic planning panel in the Republican-controlled House. The March 18 hearing will be for supporters of the expansion, while the March 19 hearing will be for opponents and for neutral testimony.
“I think really think once the hearings start and you see the quality and depth of the proponents and the weakness of the opponents, we’ll get momentum,” Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) told The Celock Report. “The needs for hospitals and providers and the moral issue of denying health care are generating momentum.”
Ward, the House’s main proponent of Medicaid expansion, had proposed an amendment to allow for the expansion to a minor bill relating to Medicaid reimbursements for donor breast milk last week. Ward’s amendment was similar to legislation he had introduced this year to allow for the expansion by lifting a 2013 law that would require the Legislature to sign off on any expansion. Under Ward’s plan Gov. Sam Brownback (R) would be allowed to implement an expansion on his own. Ward’s amendment also required the state Department of Health and Environment to develop a waiver from the federal government for a state based expansion plan.
The Medicaid expansion is allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
Ward withdrew the amendment after House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) and Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) agreed to hold the hearings. Ward told The Celock Report that he believes he could have rallied a sizeable chunk of the House around his amendment but believes the deal he reached will continue to keep the issue upfront.
“I was trying to push the issue that was my goal. I had been hearing for a week that it was dead,” Ward said. “When the opposition came up to compromise I took it. I feel comfortable we would have gotten 55-60 votes maybe even 63 votes.”
Ward said the health committee hearings will provide “more momentum” for supporters of the Medicaid expansion. He noted that after the hearings he hopes to develop final legislation to push forward. He noted that since his original bill is pending in the House Appropriations Committee there is a way to move forward this year. Under legislative rules, the Appropriations Committee is one of a handful of committee that can continue to generate legislation for the remainder of this year’s session that had not previously passed the state Senate.
Ward said that he would continue to press the case this year.
Hawkins, an opponent of the Medicaid expansion, said that the hearings will get the information out there for both sides.
“From the standpoint, the one thing the hearing will do is give those who want Medicaid expansion a chance to heard in the public arena,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that. It will give those opposed to it to be heard. You will hear both sides. They will strongly argue their case.”
Hawkins said though that it is unlikely the expansion will go past the hearing this year.
“When it is said and done that’s really all that will happen right now,” Hawkins told The Celock Report. “We’ll do the hearing and then we’ll see where it goes. There are no plans for anything further.”
Ward said he hopes to see the hearings lead the way for what he said is a “red state solution” could be developed. He said it would allow Kansas to adopt a Medicaid expansion that is similar to those adopted in other Republican leaning states. He also noted the plan hearings could discuss how the state would pay for the 10 percent it would be required to cover down the road.
“I’m hearing through the grapevine that a red states solution, and that’s a general term for a voucher system to purchase insurance from exchange. A job -raining requirement,” Ward said. “There’s some discussion, I’m not a fan, of co-pays. Those kinds of things. There are a series of questions on how do we pay for the state share in a year and a half when the state pays 10%. That’s the kind of things you’d see in a red state solution.”
Ward noted that while the Vision 2020 Committee held hearings earlier this year it is important for the hearings to be held in the Health and Human Services Committee since the members have more expertise in health policy issues. He believed it was a natural fit for the hearings and to develop a plan.
The Vision 2020 Committee primarily handles hearings about long-term issues in order to develop solutions. Among the topics the committee has explored in the past have been rural health care, rural development, water policy and the Ukraine. The committee is not known as a particularly powerful one. Among the panel’s top legislative achievements in recent years was legislation to designate a state fossil.
Ward though praised Vision 2020 Committee Chairman Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence) for holding the hearings. He said it is part of what he hopes to be passage this year.
“I would like to have a vote this year and I will continue to push for a vote this year. We’ll have to see what the environment looks like after the hearings,” Ward said. “I see strong momentum coming out of these hearings. Tom Sloan in Vision 2020 jumpstarted it earlier this session. We won’t stop until we get Medicaid expansion in Kansas.