Governor: Medical pot should fund Medicaid expansion

Capitol Bureau

This computer screen capture from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s page on Facebook shows her giving the annual State of the State address, Tuesday, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Topeka, Kan. Kelly says that given the recent mob violence in Washington, the state’s leaders must “must commit ourselves to set an example” of working together. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly proposed Monday that Kansas should legalize marijuana for medical purposes and use the revenues to expand Medicaid health care for low-income residents, a top priority that the GOP-controlled Legislature has blocked due to cost concerns.

Although Kelly’s unusual strategy seems to solve the money question when it comes to Medicaid, it figures to further rile conservatives who have resisted joining conservative neighbors Missouri and Oklahoma in allowing medical marijuana. Elections last year not only preserved Republican supermajorities in both chambers but left them more conservative.

“After nearly a year of challenges brought on by COVID-19, we need to use every tool at our disposal to protect the health of our workforce and our economy,” Governor Kelly said. “Getting 165,000 Kansans health care, injecting billions of dollars and thousands of jobs into our local economies, and protecting our rural hospitals will be critical to our recovery from the pandemic. By combining broadly popular, commonsense medical marijuana policy with our efforts to expand Medicaid, the revenue from the bill will pay for expansion.”

This Medicaid Expansion bill includes the same components of the compromise legislation from last year with the following exceptions:

  • The re-insurance program has been removed.
  • The Medicaid Expansion Surcharge paid by Kansas hospitals to offset the state general fund costs of expanding Medicaid has been removed.
  • In place of these two programs, a proposed medical marijuana bill has been inserted. 
  • This bill is modeled after Ohio’s framework and similar to the bill that has been proposed by House Republicans.
  • The fiscal note of this portion of the bill should more than offset the state general fund costs of Medicaid Expansion.

Kelly has made expanding Medicaid for as many as 165,000 additional Kansas residents a top priority since becoming governor two years ago, but top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature have prevented its passage. Kelly also previously said she’d sign a medical marijuana bill but she hadn’t actively pushed the idea.

Kelly’s proposed $19.9 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 assumes that Kansas expands Medicaid at the start of 2022, with the state spending $19 million and receiving $541 million in federal funds to cover the costs of the first half-year of the expanded program. Republicans have argued that expanding Medicaid is likely to cost Kansas far more, and GOP leaders have shown no interest in tackling the issue this year.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has taken only relatively small steps toward legalizing medical marijuana even as most other states have done it. Missouri and Oklahoma used ballot initiatives to approve it in 2018, and other states — including Colorado — allow adult recreational use. Thirty-six states allow medical marijuana use and 15 allow recreational use by adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kansas legislators in 2019 created an industrial hemp research and production program and approved a law to protect from prosecution people who use cannabidiol oils to treat children with debilitating medical conditions. Later that year, a legislative study committee recommended considering a measure like a 2016 Ohio law that allowed treatments for about 20 conditions if the marijuana cannot be smoked, but the idea didn’t get traction last year.

Under the proposed legislation, Medicaid will be expanded to the full 138% Federal Poverty Line at 90% to 10% match from the federal government. The bill requires the Secretary of Health and Environment to collect information from applicants regarding their employment history through the Medicaid application and refer unemployed or underemployed individuals to the Department of Commerce or Department of Children and Families to assist with locating job opportunities through work referral programs.

Individuals will be required to pay a premium not to exceed $25 per person or $100 per family, with a provision to grant exceptions based on hardship. Premiums that go more than 60 days unpaid are referred to the established debt setoff program through the Department of Revenue for collection.

The bill designates the Kansas Department of Health and Environment responsibility for overseeing patients and their use of medical marijuana, KDOR is responsible for licensure and fee collections as well as regulation of producers, and the Board of Healing Arts is responsible for certifying prescribing physicians. However, it also establishes a bipartisan medical marijuana advisory committee with appointments made by the governor, legislative leadership, and chaired by the Secretary of Health and Environment.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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