Governors To Congress: Extend Extra Medicaid Funds

Failure to provide additional federal funds for Medicaid, the government’s health insurance plan for the poor, could devastate state budgets, force layoffs and lead to a “double-dip recession,” according to a bipartisan contingent of governors struggling with cash shortages. The group, which includes the governors of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Washington, Kansas, Illinois, California, Colorado and Connecticut, held a press conference Wednesday urging Congress to extend the additional Medicaid match money offered in the stimulus package, called the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage, or FMAP, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

Thirty states already assumed that the money would be extended when planning their budgets for 2011, which begins Thursday in most states. But the measure is now stalled in Congress. In Kansas, the extra money amounts to about $130 million dollars. After the press conference, KHN’s Jenny Gold caught up with Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, to discuss FMAP and his state. 

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Listen to the interview (.mp3)

Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

What does the loss of the extra FMAP funding mean for Kansas?

Well in Kansas, the FMAP funding would go directly to our general fund, and that does give us some discretion as to where our cuts would take place. Unlike some other states, I think it’s unlikely that we would cut our Medicaid program. Cutting Medicaid is anti-stimulative. It loses federal dollars, and so it’s really poor public policy. We would be probably more inclined to have to look at cutting education, which is two-thirds of our budget. K-12 education is fifty percent. That’s likely where the cuts would come. And what it specifically means according to our department of education is that about 3600 teachers would be laid off.

What do you make of the fact that Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., might be the one to handle the budget hole left by FMAP? (Brownback is running for governor of Kansas; Parkinson is not running.)

Well, I think it gives him a pretty strong incentive to get this fixed. And Congress is now– the Senate is three votes short. Sen. Brownback has supported the filibuster that’s prevented a vote on the issue, and I’ve encouraged him to change his position on that, and I hope he will.

Even if the state gets more FMAP money, what problems do you still have in funding Medicaid? What worries do you have as you leave office?

We fixed our budget problems, so I don’t have worries. We cut a billion dollars and then we raised $300 million in revenue through a sales tax. So as long as we receive the FMAP money and our revenues come in as predicted our budget is balanced and our budget plan actually extends out very well for the next five years.

What is the state doing to address the administrative backlog of people waiting to enroll in Medicaid and [The Children’s Health Insurance Program] now?

We had a problem in a lot of agencies where through budget cuts we had lost employees, and so the simple task of getting people signed up for programs in a variety of areas was falling back. And so I instructed the agencies to let me know how many people they needed to solve that. We included that solution in our 2011 budget, and hopefully we now have it solved.

How far along are you on implementing provisions of the new health law such as the [health insurance] exchange?

We have a team that we have assigned that’s working with our insurance commissioner and our internal staff and the health policy authority to make sure that we’re kind of ahead of the curve in implementing all of these things. At this point in time I don’t know, but I can tell you from the 30,000-foot view that I’ve instructed all these people that I want Kansas to be in the best position to move forward as possible, so I know they’re all working on it.