- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House on Wednesday advanced a bill expanding Medicaid to more low-income, non-elderly adults, a proposal that was denied votes and floor debates for four years.

The measure passed a first-round House vote 83-40 and will see final action Thursday.

The bill would expand the state’s Medicaid program, KanCare, to between 100,000 and 200,000 people ages 19 to 64 who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, about $16,000 for a single person. Under current law, the federal government will pay 94 percent of the cost and step down to 90 percent by 2020.

Supporters won the decisive initial victory arguing the expansion would be budget-neutral, support struggling health care providers and increase access to care. They pointed to other states, including several with Republican governors, that the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation says saw positive economic effects.

The legislation passed the first round as Congress is considering changes to the Affordable Care Act, including phasing out the funding for Medicaid expansion. The Kansas House bill includes a provision that would end the program if the federal government decreases funding below 90 percent.

Republican Rep. Susan Concannon, of Beloit, carried the issue to the House floor after a Medicaid expansion bill was tabled in the chamber’s health committee. She attached the contents as an amendment to another bill.

The expansion measure could have died because of an upcoming deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin. Concannon said expansion legislation hasn’t been allowed votes in past years, and that a change in leadership has been the difference.

Supporters said expanding Medicaid would increase access to care using mostly federal funds. They argued the increased access means patients will get primary care, decreasing expensive emergency health care costs and uncompensated care costs that hospitals incur when they treat uninsured patients.

Concannon, who serves as vice chair of the health committee, said the state shouldn’t expect providers to “bear the brunt” of the state having not expanded Medicaid.

“We have got to get a system in place in Kansas where we can pay them for the work they are doing,” she said.

Several providers testified before the committee earlier this month and said they were struggling or laying off employees because of uncompensated care costs and cuts to the payments they receive for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients. They said expansion could offset those losses.

Opponents argued the expansion would be costly. They cited a state estimate on the original expansion bill that said it would cost Kansas nearly $69 million over the next two fiscal years after accounting for program revenue.

They also said the state shouldn’t expand Medicaid because if the federal government eliminates funding for the program, the state will be left to either take away coverage or fund a much larger portion of the program.

There is a Medicaid expansion bill in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, but it hasn’t gotten a hearing.

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