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Chairman Says Kansas House Health Committee Will Debate Medicaid Expansion

Kansas News Service File

Medicaid expansion will get hearings in the Kansas House during the upcoming legislative session, the chairman of its health committee says, and leadership assignments suggest the issue may have a more receptive audience than in the past.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican who also headed the committee in 2016, says he remains opposed to expanding Medicaid to some low-income non-disabled adults, but his committee will debate the issue.

House Speaker-elect Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, has said the House will tackle the issue this year, Hawkins says, although Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has said expansion will be “dead” under President-elect Donald Trump.

Committee assignments also indicate opposition to Medicaid expansion may be softening. Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, appointed Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who has supported expansion, to the committee as its vice chairwoman.

Hawkins says he expects Concannon to take a leading role in the expansion debate.

“My vice chairman will probably very instrumental in how that’s handled in the committee,” he says.

Concannon, who had served in that position in 2015, was one of three members removed from the committee before the 2016 session because they supported Medicaid expansion.

Hawkins also noted the Kansas Hospital Association and other health organizations have mounted a campaign encouraging legislators to come up with a Kansas-specific expansion plan. Some states, including Indiana, have approved modified plans. 

“They’re not slowing down,” he says.

Hawkins says he also expects 2017 could be the year when Kansas legalizes hemp oil for certain medical conditions.

A bill last session would have legalized cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which is made from the hemp plant but doesn’t produce the euphoria that recreational marijuana users seek.

Some research suggests that the oil could help people who have seizures that resist other treatments, but advocates say the formulation in the bill wastoo weak to reduce seizures. The bill died in conference committee.

This year could be different, because the Food and Drug Administration may soon approve a CBD product to treat epilepsy, Hawkins says. 

The House health committee also will work bills related to palliative care, licensing of emergency medical responders and telemedicine across state lines.

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach her on Twitter @meganhartMC

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