Gov. Laura Kelly wants to fund Medicaid expansion in Kansas with marijuana. Here’s what you need to know. – The Topeka Capital-Journal

Gov. Laura Kelly has been pushing for years for Medicaid expansion in Kansas, a priority that has faced pushback from state Republicans who argued it would cost too much.

On Monday, the Democratic governor said she would put forth and present a bill with her solution ― legalize medical marijuana, and in the process, use that revenue to fund Medicaid.

It would kill two birds with one stone, as Kansas remains one of the few states to not expand Medicaid or legalize medical marijuana.

Here’s what to know about her proposal.

Gov. Laura Kelly

What’s in the bill?

The actual introduction of the bill, when its contents will be revealed, is set to come this week or next.

But in her announcement, Kelly said most of the content will be the same as last year’s compromise forged by herself and former Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning. That compromise had her administration promising “a robust work referral program that promotes self-reliance” and that new enrollees would pay a premium of up to $25 per person or $100 per family. Medicaid would be expanded to the full 138% of the federal poverty line at 90% to 10% match from the federal government.

In terms of cost, the state would promise reinsurance ― insurance for insurance companies, to put it basically ― to cover the highest-cost patients, in addition to surcharge fees from Kansas hospitals.

More:They protested for Medicaid expansion at the Kansas Statehouse. Nine face charges in Shawnee County District Court.

But now, those two funding components have disappeared. To fund that Medicaid portion, the bill instead would legalize medical marijuana. It is the first time the governor has formally proposed marijuana legalization.

Varieties of CBD flower, a nonpsychoactive ingredient in marijuana, are sold Tuesday at Sacred Leaf. The store sells a large variety of full-spectrum CBD products legally but is restricted by the state from selling anything that contains over 5% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Advocates across the state cheered the move, with health care groups ranging from the Kansas Hospital Association to the American Cancer Society long eyeing expansion as a way of helping hospitals, particularly those in rural areas, as well as increasing access to care.

“There’s been poll after poll that’s been done over the last several years that continuously shows that there’s public support for Medicaid expansion,” said Chad Austin, president of the Kansas Hospital Association, on Tuesday morning. “So hopefully our policymakers here in Topeka will take advantage of that and find a solution that’s right for Kansans.”

Kansas is one of nine states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. All four neighboring states have opted to expand their programs after Missouri narrowly approved a ballot initiative in August that would increase access to its MO HealthNet program.

How would a medical marijuana program work?

A push to legalize medical marijuana isn’t new.

Nationally, 36 states have some form of legalized recreational or medical cannabis. Others have more restrictive programs that only allow CBD oil and other products with low levels of THC, the compound in cannabis that is mind-altering.

Shalaine Shirley, manager at Sacred Leaf at 101 N.E. US-24 highway, arranges CBD products the store sells Tuesday afternoon.

Kansas, along with Idaho and Nebraska, are the only three states without any public cannabis program, although CBD products with no THC content are allowed in Kansas and an industrial hemp program was created in 2019.

CBD products with THC are legal in the state, but only for those who are very ill.

More:Gov. Kelly wants to use medical marijuana funds for Medicaid expansion in Kansas

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