Kansas officials ponder next health care step

Associated Press Published: November 7, 2012
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"The people of Kansas have spoken loudly three times, they want us to pursue Kansas solutions," Jones-Sontag said. "We are discussing options and alternatives with like-minded states and with our legislative partners in Kansas."

Sheppard said the state was applying to fill the roles of plan management and consumer assistance. She said because of timelines to implement the law that Kansas was unable to set up its own exchange. The insurance department would have to receive legislative approval to spend any federal dollars on the exchange partnership.

Pressure from the conservative Republicans last year prompted Brownback to reject $31.5 million in federal funds to help build the computer infrastructure necessary for an exchange.

States must have the exchanges in place and approve a basket of qualified plans that would be available for consumers to purchase that meet minimum federal guidelines.

In addition to the exchanges, the federal health care law says that in 2017, states must pick up 5 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion. The figure grows to 10 percent by 2020. In the past, states generally have been required to pick up about 40 percent of the cost, and in Kansas, the state's share for its $2.9 billion-a-year program is almost $1.2 billion.

Some state officials also worry that Kansas could face substantial new costs if it agrees to the Medicaid expansion because people who are now eligible without the expansion but not participating in the program also could seek coverage. That issue was noted by a Congressional Budget Office report in July.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis said he was concerned about the state's ability to expand Medicaid given Tuesday's new revenue estimates projecting a $327 million shortfall in the next state budget because of income tax cuts taking effect Jan. 1.

"There's no room for any spending initiatives. That is a big concern," said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.