PITTSBURG — Although the start of the upcoming Kansas legislative session is still more than two months away, discussion of an issue that is sure to receive considerable debate once it is underway — Medicaid expansion — has already begun.

Last week, a Kansas Senate committee endorsed a Medicaid expansion proposal written by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning for expanding the government-funded health care program for lower income Kansans, despite concerns from some that it raises tobacco taxes and doesn’t include a work requirement for participants.

The plan endorsed by the committee differs significantly from an expansion plan backed by Gov. Laura Kelly and fellow Democrats.

“We need a Medicaid expansion plan that is simple, effective and sustainable for Kansas,” Kelly said in a statement. “We don’t need to create extra bureaucratic red tape, raise taxes, and create more hurdles to access to health care.”

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Governor’s Council on Medicaid Expansion, which was formed in September, had its second meeting.

“The bipartisan group of policy experts, community leaders and stakeholders is studying Medicaid expansion from the 36 other states that have expanded to determine the best version for Kansas,” Kelly’s office said in a Tuesday press release.

“The meeting began with Cindy Mann, partner at Manatt Health, who presented information on the national overview of the Medicaid expansion population. The occupations with the largest number of workers covered by Medicaid are service workers such as cashiers, nurse and health aids and retail salespersons.”

The council, which has its next meeting scheduled for Dec. 12, “is tasked with identifying three to five guideposts or goals for responsible, sustainable expansion in Kansas,” according to the release. “The Council will supplement the legislative work that is already underway.”

Rep. Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg), who is a member of the governor’s council, discussed the organization’s work so far in a statement provided to the Morning Sun on Thursday.

“The Governor's Council on Medicaid Expansion has met twice and both meetings provided updated factual information about what has been found effective in other Medicaid Expansion states and what has not been effective,” Murnan said in her statement, adding that “this intense type of study is important in making quality decisions.”

Despite the recent developments in the discussion surrounding Medicaid expansion, the details of any agreement the state legislature may eventually reach remain unclear.

Last week, the Wichita Eagle reported that Denning’s plan “drew tough reviews from both Democrats and members of his own party.” Those critical reviewers include area legislators.

“The proposal provided by Senator Denning has components that have been denied by CMS previously and also is unnecessarily complicated,” Murnan said in her Thursday statement. “While I’m pleased Senator Denning is no longer blocking the process, based on the information I have received from bipartisan and highly knowledgeable sources, it's a plan that delays implementation and puts up barriers to access to care. I am still hoping we can come up with a solution that meets the needs of Kansans.”

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Ken Collins (R-Mulberry) also weighed in on Denning’s plan.

“One thing that concerns me in Sen. Denning's proposal is the increase on cigarette taxes,” Collins said in a statement Wednesday. “I know that tobacco use is not particularly popular in many circles right now and it is easy to tax smokers because many people see it as a way to discourage unhealthy behavior.

“As the owner of a convenience store in Kansas that is located on the border I have a hard enough time competing with my Missouri counterparts now with a cigarette tax that is more than a dollar more than what is charged in the Show Me State. Kansas loses even more because of this in the KC Metro area where many Kansas commuters who work across the state line can easily stop in Missouri on their way to or from work to make their purchases,” Collins said.

“I'm also concerned that if Sen. Denning's plan is passed into law it will not be accepted by the Federal government. The plan extends Medicaid to childless persons at or below 100% of the poverty level instead of the 138% in the Federal plan. Other states who have tried partial expansion have been shot down by the Federal government.”