Bills to balance Medicaid budget and raise dropout age clear House

02/10/2011 07:55 PM

(WITH VIDEO) FRANKFORT — After a couple hours of debate, the state House on Thursday passed a pair of bills that Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear deemed the most important of the 2011 session: balancing the Medicaid budget and raising the student dropout age to 18 by 2016.

Despite attracting vocal Republican critics, both measures cleared the chamber by large margins.

Medicaid budget provision passes 80-19

The Medicaid adjustment, House Bill 305, would take $166 million from the fiscal year 2012 Medicaid budget and shift it to fiscal year 2011 to cover a shortfall in the program. The General Assembly had bet on getting more financial help from the federal government than it ended up getting last year.

The money shifted from 2012 to 2011 would be recovered by saving money through managed care approaches, members of Beshear’s administration have said. The bill passed 80-to-19, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans.

But opponents did not let the bill go through untouched. Rep. Jim Decesare, Republican from Bowling Green, attempted to attach a last minute floor amendment to the bill. That amendment would only allow $100 million to be transferred between years and would force Beshear to find the remaining $66 million by other means.

The amendment, which wasn’t filed 24 hours early as required, wasn’t allowed to be considered because it did not pass an attempt to suspend the rules to allow it. But it could hint at how the Republican majority in the Senate might handle the Medicaid shortfall. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, initially criticized Beshear’s proposal to balance the budget saying the administration has failed to live up to expectations about holding down the costs of the program.

Medicaid provides health care to more than 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians.

Rep. Bill Farmer, Republican from Lexington, who also voted “no,” said the Medicaid bill didn’t make fiscal sense.

But Rep. Rick Rand, chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said Kentucky was expected to save money through increased managed care options, which are currently under review. Such options would allow non-profit hospitals or health care organizations to contract with the state to provide Medicaid services.

In a statement, Beshear applauded the House passing H.B. 305 and urged the Senate to do the same.

“Both Democratic and Republican members of the House recognize our duty to balance the state budget, and I appreciate the strong bipartisan support they gave to the passage of the Medicaid proposal,” Beshear said. “This measure will make sure families continue to get needed health care, and that our state’s health care providers can avoid drastic reductions in reimbursement payments.”

Dropout bill passes 91-8

The other major bill, House Bill 225, dealt with raising the dropout age gradually to 18-years-old by 2016. Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, the bill received the backing of the governor and first lady Jane Beshear. Jane Beshear testified on the bill’s behalf in front of the House Education Committee for the second year in a row.

Greer told members on the House floor that not passing the dropout bill would cost the state more than implementing the changes.

The bill would raise the dropout age to 17 for the class who will be freshmen in the fall of 2015 and then would raise it to 18 the following year for the next class.

Rep. Carl Rollins, Democrat from Midway and chair of the House Education Committee, said passing the dropout bill would send a strong message to students and parents that students need to stay in school to get a degree.

The bill passed 91-to-8, with all 8 “no” votes coming from Republicans, many of who didn’t vote or passed on voting for the bill in committee. But it also had support from many Republicans, including Rep. Aleicia Webb-Edgington, a Republican from Fort Wright, who said she talked to many groups involved in education that supported the bill.

Webb-Edgington played a key behind-the-scenes role in inserting a provision that would encourage more alternative programs to help students at risk of dropping out.

In separate statements, Gov. Steve Beshear and Jane Beshear praised the passing of the dropout bill.

“This bill is a bold step to put students first and to create a stronger workforce for our state,” the governor said. “Keeping students in school greatly enhances Kentucky’s ability to offer its citizens the quality of life they deserve. As a state, we cannot afford to delay this long-overdue change any longer, and I call on the Senate to pass this bill.”

And Jane Beshear echoed Greer’s comments that not raising the dropout age will cost the state and individuals in the long run.

“We know that allowing students to drop out of school at age 16 is a losing proposition – not just for the teenagers but also for our state,” Jane Beshear said. “When students drop out, they tend to earn thousands of dollars less annually than high school graduates, and tend to rely on more social services. This bill will not only help students thrive, but it will also help build a better educated workforce.”

-Videos produced and reporting by Kenny Colston


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