Bill with $238 mil. in Medicaid aid for Kentucky stalled in Senate

06/18/2010 02:12 PM

A jobless benefits bill containing an extension of aid to the states’ Medicaid program got held up in procedural votes in the U.S. Senate on Thursday night, which could result in a $238 million hole in Kentucky’s budget.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell

The $24.2 billion provision was aimed at extending an increase in what the federal government pays the states for the Medicaid program, which covers health care costs for the poor and disabled. Congress initially boosted the reimbursement rate to the states as part of the stimulus bill passed in 2009, but the increase is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 201o.

Gov. Steve Beshear has urged Kentucky’s federal delegation, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, to pass that provision because, otherwise, it will blow another hole in the 2011-2012 budget the General Assembly just passed last month.

“If Congress does not pass this extension before December 31 the state will face a $238 million hole in our budget, or an approximately $1 billion hit to the Medicaid program, if it had to be absorbed entirely within the program,” Beshear said.

At least 30 other states are in the same situation.

Beshear will continue to aggressively lobby Kentucky’s congressional delegation to make sure they understand the crtiical need the Commonwealth has for this assistance, his spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said in a statement Friday.

McConnell was among those who voted to keep the bill off the floor Thursday night. It needed 60 votes to advance and fell short with just 56.

“Americans are frustrated with the amount of spending and borrowing around here,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We have an opportunity here to show the American people that we can be fiscally responsible and pay for legislation by cutting spending elsewhere. Earlier today, we voted for a bill that would have cut the deficit by almost $70 billion.  Let’s not wave on through legislation that is going to worsen the deficit and dig an even deeper hole than we are in.”

McConnell suggested a 30-day extension of jobless benefits as an alternative, which also failed.

That means the Senate and the Democratic-controlled House have each turned down a chance to extend the Medicaid aid to the states.

On Friday, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul was asked on a Lexington radio program whether he would have supported the $120 billion jobless benefits bill that included the $24.2 billion in Medicaid payments to the states.

He said he doesn’t support legislation that adds to the nation’s debt without a corresponding way to cover the cost.

“What we have to do is pay for it … We should do pay as you go,” he told host Sue Wylie. “I think the issue is bigger than just the unemployment benefits.”

UPDATED 3:32 p.m.: Senators, on Friday, did come up with a compromise on one smaller provision that was in the jobless benefits bill, the New York Times reports.

They worked out an agreement on a $6.4 billion measure to reverse a cut in the federal Medicare payments to doctors, which would be offset by changes to Medicare billing. Thus it wouldn’t add to the deficit.

- Ryan Alessi

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