By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – The Republican-led Senate voted along party lines Friday in approving two bills that would require the legislature’s approval for the state to expand its Medicaid rolls and implement another key part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Senate passage of the measures was not to express any sentiment against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“This is a huge policy decision. We don’t know all the details about them,” he said. “The legislature should have a say about them.”
Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville.
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 Gov. Steve 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 vote on the bills split along party lines. Republicans said they were needed to provide legislative oversight while Democrats claimed the bills would hurt needy people.
Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, said the measure would hurt at the polls lawmakers who voted for them. “You are voting against children and people who should have this service,” he said.
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.
Beshear, a Democrat, created the health benefit exchange last 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.
The two bills now go to the Democratic-controlled House, where they are expected to face an uphill battle.
The Senate also on Friday approved SB 142, which would require local option elections to be held on primary or general election days unless petitioners for them pay for them. The vote was 34-1.