Senate panel OKs bills requiring legislative approval for Medicaid expansion, health benefit exchange
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear would need the legislature’s permission to expand Medicaid or implement key parts of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act under two bills approved Wednesday by a legislative panel.
Senate Bill 39 would require legislative approval to expand Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled. Senate Bill 40 would require Beshear to get the General Assembly’s approval before starting a state-run health benefit exchange, an online insurance marketplace for people to buy insurance. The exchange is a key part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The vote on the bills split along party lines. Seven Republicans voted for the proposals and three Democrats opposed them. There was no debate on either bill.
Beshear, a Democrat, created the health benefit exchange this summer by executive order. It is scheduled to go live on Jan. 1, 2014.
Republicans have repeatedly tried to block the health benefit exchange, raising questions about the cost of implementing the program. The Beshear administration has used federal grants to pay for start up costs. Administration officials have said an existing tax on insurance companies will be used to pay for ongoing operating costs.
Expanding Medicaid eligibility — also part of Obama’s health care legislation — to an additional 400,0000 Kentuckians is expected to happen in 2014. The federal government will pay all of the additional costs in the first three years and 90 percent of the cost in the fourth year.
“This is going to be an expensive endeavor,” Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said of the reason she sponsored both bills. “We need to have input.”
“This is in no way a slight to the governor,” Denton said.
Even if the bill passes the Republican-controlled Senate, it has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House. Both House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Burch have spoken out against the bills saying that they are not needed.
SB 39 and SB 40 now go to the Senate for consideration.