State lawmakers battle over cancer funding

March 28, 2014

FRANKFORT (AP) — Earlier this month Kentucky lawmakers Dan Seum and Rocky Adkins - both cancer survivors - spoke at a news conference advocating for an extra $1 million to expand a state colon cancer screening program.

“I’m looking forward to hanging on to that extra million dollars,” Seum told reporters as Adkins smiled in the background.

But no one was smiling Thursday as Seum, the GOP Senate Caucus chairman, and Adkins, the House Democratic floor leader, sat on opposite sides of a conference table in an emotionally-charged meeting, fighting over that money. Seum supported the position of the Republican-controlled Senate, which removed the money from the budget, while Adkins pressed to keep it.

Senate Republican leaders argued the state money is unnecessary, now that the federal Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans and Medicaid to cover colon cancer screenings. But House Democrats said it’s too early to end the state program, pointing out that only about half of the roughly 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians have signed up for insurance through the state health insurance exchange.

The fight illustrates how even a seemingly safe issue like cancer screenings can get caught up in the partisan political storm that has been brewing in Kentucky’s statehouse since January. Republicans, who already control the state Senate, need to win just five seats to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century. And they have repeatedly tried to force House Democrats into votes on the Affordable Care Act, which 49 percent of Kentuckians want repealed, according to a recent poll.

“My feeling is when we get down to closing argument here, Obamacare will be shown to be a failure and then we will fund (the screenings),” Seum said. “They’re going to have to admit that it’s not working.”