Kansas lawmakers have voted to expand the state’s Medicaid health care program to more low-income individuals.

The bill passed 25-13 in a first-round Senate vote Monday. It will see a final vote Tuesday. If approved, it would then go to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The House passed the measure last month after expansion supporters tried unsuccessfully for four years to get a floor debate and vote.

Opponents in the Statehouse have largely relied on cost and uncertainty over what Congress will do to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as reasons not to expand.

But supporters say congressional Republicans’ failure to vote on their health care bill last week is more reason to expand. They contend expansion would be an economic boon to the state.

In Kansas, Kaiser Foundation estimated 58,000 uninsured people fall into the so-called “coverage gap” resulting from the state’s decision to not expand Medicaid eligibility.  

Understanding the Medcaid gap

The gap was created by a restriction under the Affordable Care Act which does not allow individuals with income less than 100% of federal poverty level (FPL) to purchase insurance under the exchanges.  This created a gap in coverage for those individuals who made too much money (above 32% of FPL in Kansas) to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for ACA. 

Originally, the drafters of ACA planned for the individuals in the coverage gap to be covered by the state’s expansion of Medicaid.  However, the Kansas Legislature voted not to expand Medicare, despite the Federal Governments agreement to cover 90% of the cost. 

If approved by the governor, the expansion of Medicaid in Kansas will finally be expanded to cover this very large group – estimates of 58,000 plus.  

Governor may veto

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has stopped short of saying that he would veto a bill to expand the Medicaid program in Kansas.

But Brownback spokeswoman Melika Willoughby said Monday in an email that that it would be irresponsible to “expand ObamaCare when the program is in a death spiral.”

The 2010 overhaul of the U.S. health care system championed by former President Barack Obama encouraged states to expand their Medicaid programs by promising to pay most of the cost.

The Senate was debating a measure that would expand Medicaid to as many as 180,000 additional poor adults.

Brownback said in a letter with other GOP governors to congressional leaders last week that expanding Medicaid under Obama’s policies moved the program away from its “core mission” of helping the truly vulnerable.

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