The mere threat of launching debate on Medicaid expansion in Kansas has caged up a measure to suspend, rather than terminate, coverage for people while they’re locked up.
So legislators have created a policy work-around that doles out some extra money with direction to the state healthy agency to keep that coverage waiting for people when they get free.
The waylaid bill would let people sent to prison or mental health facilities press pause on their benefits and then pick them up again when they’re released. Under current law, Medicaid recipients need to reapply for benefits. That can take weeks or months, effectively delaying care and jeopardizing the finances of the poor.
Last year’s attempt to expand Medicaid was amended onto a bill creating mental health clubhouses, or community-based rehabilitation programs for people with mental illness. Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the bill, stopping both Medicaid expansion and the clubhouse program.
This year, Senate majority leader Jim Denning has said he’s not interested in debating KanCare expansion until after the Legislature sorts out school funding.
“There’s no reason to bring Medicaid expansion back up and take a vote when we know — A, it won’t pass, and, B, until we get school finance fixed for the long term — we have no way to plan on paying for an expanded Medicaid,” Denning said.
In the case of Medicaid suspension, Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt said lawmakers are setting aside enough money in the budget for the Kansas Department for Health and Environment to cover the costs of suspending, rather than terminating benefits.
Rick Cagan, head of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he’s glad Kansas will change the Medicaid rules, a move he and other mental health advocates have been pushing for more than a decade.
“It’s huge progress after spending 10 or 15 years complaining about the issue,” he said. “We’d like a statutory solution, but…until they can do that, I think this will hold us.”
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.