TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Health care advocates in Kansas on Friday called on Gov. Sam Brownback to accept a federal expansion of Medicaid coverage for some low-income residents.
More than 75 people attended a rally at the Statehouse, arguing the expansion would help about 130,000 Kansas residents who lack health insurance. Approximately 393,000 residents now receive health coverage through Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor.
Anna Lambertson , executive director of the Kansas Health Care Coalition, said leaving so many people without coverage was unjustified when the federal government was offering to pick up most of the cost.
"That's simply unacceptable. We need to fix this," she said.
The new federal health care program, known as the Affordable Care Act, provides for expanding Medicaid coverage to include more low-income residents who can't afford insurance. The federal government would pay the additional cost initially, with states picking up 5 percent beginning in 2017 and 10 percent by 2020. Some governors have rejected the expansion because of the eventual cost to the state.
Brownback has not announced whether Kansas would participate. Any move to expand Medicaid would require legislative approval because it would eventually lead to the appropriation of state revenues.
Brownback's spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the administration was continuing to discuss "options and alternatives" with other states and Kansas legislators. She said any expansion would have budget implications for other core functions, such as public education and prisons.
"There are serious concerns that the federal government will keep its promise to pay for its part of the expansion. It cannot meet the spending commitments it already has made," she said. "It is very unlikely it will be able to meet additional commitments, which means Kansas taxpayers would be stuck with a gigantic bill."
Friday's rally came one day after Brownback said Kansas would not join with the federal government to establish a health insurance exchange — another feature of the federal health care overhaul. States declining to participate will receive a federally designed network that residents will use to choose among coverage plans when the system goes into effect.
Jennifer Weishaar, an unemployed Lawrence resident, said she hopes Kansas expands Medicaid because her current coverage includes large deductibles and her options are limited because of pre-existing health conditions.
"I say with gratitude and delight that I love Obamacare," she said.
Brownback launched a Medicaid review project in 2011, with the goal slowing the growth of the state's health care costs. The state awarded contracts to three managed care organizations that will begin in January.
Protesters noted that Brownback and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved income tax cuts that are projected to cause budget shortfalls in the coming years. A new estimate from the state consensus revenue estimating group projects the state will see a reduction of more than $700 million in revenue in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013, leading to a projected $327 million shortfall.