TOPEKA, Kansas — A Kansas group is gearing up to push again for expanding the state's Medicaid program as encouraged by the federal health care overhaul, despite strong opposition from Republican legislators.
About 30 advocates gathered Monday for a program sponsored by the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition. The group began lobbying earlier this year to bring more people under Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the needy and disabled.
Instead, the Republican-dominated Legislature added provisions to budget legislation that now block the state from expanding Medicaid through June 2015. The federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, encouraged states to broaden their programs by promising to pay most of the cost.
The federal health care law offers subsidies to help individuals and families buy private health insurance. But the assistance isn't available for people whose households earn less than the federal poverty level, or $23,550 for a family of four, because the law anticipated that states would expand their Medicaid programs.
Anna Lambertson, the coalition's coordinator, said Monday's program allowed advocates to share information and work on lobbying strategies. The coalition includes advocacy and health care groups.
"This is us getting ready to do more of a push in 2014," she said.
But the prospects for an expansion appear dimmed by problems associated with last month's rollout of the website for federally run health insurance marketplaces in most states, including Kansas. Also, at least 4 million Americans have received policy cancellation notices from health insurance companies, despite Obama's pledge that people could keep coverage they liked.
Republican legislators have been skeptical that the federal government will follow through on funding most of the Medicaid expansion. Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said the policy cancellations increase the doubts because they represent a broken promise.
"Even more so, we should not want to expand Medicaid in our state," she said.
But the nonpartisan Kansas Health Institute estimates that nearly 88,000 uninsured Kansans, including more than 29,000 children, do not qualify for existing Medicaid coverage or subsidies for private insurance.
Bruce Witt, director governmental relations for the Wichita-based Via Christi Health, the state's largest hospital system, said: "What we're hopeful is we can continue the dialogue with the governor and the Legislature."
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