- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Republican-controlled state Senate appointed new leaders on Monday for two powerful committees that will help shape the future of Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion and how the state will pay for it.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, is the new chairman of the committee in charge of spending the state’s $9 billion budget. And newly elected Sen. Julie Raque Adams is the new chairwoman of the committee that oversees Kentucky’s Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The appointments come while Kentuckians are signing up for health insurance through kynect, the state-operated exchange where people can purchase discounted private health insurance or sign up for Medicaid. More than 521,000 people signed up for health insurance during the first round of open enrollment, with most of those people enrolling for Medicaid.

So far, the federal government has paid for all of the new people to join the state’s Medicaid program. But beginning in 2017, Kentucky taxpayers will have to start paying for part of the bill.

“That’s going to be a big number and as of yet it’s an unknown number,” McDaniel said. “We’re going to be very serious about getting our arms around that.”

But don’t look for Republicans to try to dismantle Kentucky’s decision to grow its Medicaid population.

“I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe that,” Adams said.

McDaniel might not get to write a state budget. Lawmakers will not craft another budget until 2016. McDaniel is the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate James Comer. If he wins, McDaniel would resign his Senate seat to become lieutenant governor in 2016. But Republican Senate leaders said the plan is to groom Sen. Stan Humphries, the committee’s new vice chairman, to take over should McDaniel become lieutenant governor.

“We will have a procedure in place to ensure a smooth transition,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

McDaniel will replace outgoing Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent from Paducah, who was elected the new judge executive of McCracken County. Adams will replace outgoing Sen. Julie Denton, who was elected to the Louisville Metro Council.

Also announced Monday: Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a doctor who defeated Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer in November, is the new vice chairman of the Health and Welfare committee.

Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, is the new chairman of the Military Affairs and Public Protection committee. He replaces Sen. Jimmy Higdon, who was elected the new majority caucus whip. Newly elected Sen. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, will be the vice chairman.

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