FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear on Tuesday asked the legislature for a $190 million increase in Medicaid spending over the next two years, but stressed that the money would not pay for President Barack Obama's health care law.
Beshear, in his biennial budget address, asked for a 4 percent increase in Medicaid spending from the General Fund over each of the next two years — $65.7 million for 2015 and $124.2 million in 2016.
Beshear's budget also includes money to reverse deep cuts to a child care assistance program for working parents and provide $420,000 each year for a task force reviewing deaths and serious injuries resulting from child abuse and neglect.
More than 13,000 low-income children have been cut from the child care assistance program since stiffer income guidelines took effect July 1. Beshear's budget would return eligibility for the program to 150 percent of the federal poverty level and restore $52.7 million to the program in 2015 and $58.1 million in 2016.
Those and other budget requests for programs dealing with children earned Beshear rave reviews from activists, including Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Brooks said that with this budget, Beshear "establishes himself as the kids' governor."
"I'm gleeful but I'm stunned; I don't know if that's gleefully stunned," Brooks said. "It's one of the most pleasant surprises that I think Kentucky's kids have ever gotten."
While critics of Beshear's decision to expand Medicaid through Obama's Affordable Care Act have been watching closely to see if the expanded program would require more money from Kentuckians, Beshear said the expansion has been fully funded by the federal government.
His request for more money is due to "the natural growth of the current system," Beshear told reporters at an afternoon briefing before his 7 p.m. budget address to lawmakers. "This has nothing to do with the expanded Medicaid program that I have implemented under the Affordable Care Act."
Beshear said his proposed 4 percent increase is "probably one of the lowest we've had in a long time, which is tied mostly to the fact that health care inflation has not risen nearly as rapidly in the last year or two as it had before."
"But we are having increased enrollment in the regular Medicaid program; not the expansion program," Beshear said. "Much of that comes from what we call the woodwork effect."
The governor described the "woodwork effect" as an increase in Medicaid enrollment by Kentuckians who were already eligible for the program but only became aware of it because of the publicity surrounding Beshear's implementation of Obama's law.
Opponents of the law, however, remained skeptical.
David Adams, who has filed suit to reverse Beshear's executive order expanding Medicaid, said he expects more requests for funding, accusing Beshear of passing on hidden costs to Kentuckians.
"He slipped a 40 percent increase in Medicaid administration into the last half of 2014 last September hoping no one would notice," Adams said. "There are a lot of reasons not to trust his PowerPoint presentation. Stay tuned."
Beshear also proposed funding a variety of public health screening programs and said he exempted most public health programs from budget cuts imposed on many other agencies.
His requests for $1 million for colon cancer screening, to be matched by the Kentucky Cancer Foundation, and $1 million for expanded breast and cervical cancer screenings are temporary expenses that will dissipate after more Kentuckians have health insurance, Beshear said.
"This is basically an interim step because it's going to take us a good while to get most people into either expanded Medicaid or into the private health plans," he said.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com