Adherents of Medicaid expansion in Kansas apply extra heat to GOP lawmakers

By Tim Carpenter, April 04, 2018

Agitation felt by about 200 people reverberated through the Capitol on Tuesday as champions of Medicaid expansion called for the state’s political leadership to reverse course and withdraw a blockade of legislation extending health insurance eligibility to about 150,000 more Kansans.

Opposition among Republican lawmakers in the House, Senate and governor’s office has reflected a belief that the state can’t afford a larger Medicaid footprint, the federal government and President Donald Trump will eventually repeal the Affordable Care Act, and states that implemented the Obamacare provision regretted the decision.

“I’m not proud of people who put political fortune above protecting peoples’ lives,” said David Toland, an Iola resident who skewered former Gov. Sam Brownback and urged Gov. Jeff Colyer to break from his GOP predecessor on Medicaid expansion. “Enough. Enough. I will never accept, and neither should you, that this is the best we can do.”

The House and Senate passed an expansion bill during the 2017 session, but it was vetoed by Brownback. On several occasions, including Tuesday, Colyer affirmed opposition to broadening eligibility.

A bill pending on the Kansas Senate calendar would extend Medicaid benefits under the KanCare program to about 150,000 people who earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to be eligible for financial assistance to buy private health insurance. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid services under the ACA.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a group of about 100 business, civic and health organizations across the state, said providing preventive medical care for these Kansans would save lives. At least 90 percent of the cost would be paid by the federal government, and infusion of resources into rural hospitals would help those communities, the alliance said.

The Rev. Carl Frazier, of Southwest Baptist Church in Topeka, said the state had walked away from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal health care funding to preserve a degree of political purity born of blanket rejection of Medicaid expansion.

“I hope and pray that it is a new day in Kansas where all people from all walks of life ... will have affordable health care,” Frazier said. “We have a responsibility to show mercy for all people in the state of Kansas.”

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired physician and moderate Republican from Mission Hills, told rally participants a contingent of state politicians called themselves “pro-life,” but should more accurately portray themselves as “pro-birth.”

“They’re not taking care of all of us with the ability to have health insurance in this state,” she said. “They don’t want you to have health care. Bottom line, folks, it’s going to be a long, hard fight. Do not lose hope.”

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, is responsible for establishing the Senate’s debate calendar. In February, he expressed willingness to debate a Medicaid expansion bill after the Legislature resolved conflict over K-12 school finance. The Kansas Supreme Court declared the state’s education funding system to be unconstitutional.

He said that after putting to rest school financing disputes the state would be in a position to have a “real debate” and identify an “honest financial way to pay for it.”

Wichita public school teacher Marcillene Dover said at the rally that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in college. Despite working three jobs at one point, she had no health insurance. She has insurance now through her job as an educator. She had a personal message for Denning: “Hear my voice. Allow the debate to continue.”

Following the event, about a dozen clergy members tried to force an impromptu meeting with Denning. The goal was to convince the Senate majority leader to open the Senate floor to debate on Medicaid expansion.

The Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka and volunteer chairwoman of Kansas Interfaith Action, said the legislative logjam should be broken.

“We don’t want to be silent,” she said. “We want a debate. We want a vote. We want to give Gov. Colyer a chance to do the right thing.”

http://www.cjonline.com/news/20180403/adherents-of-medicaid-expansion-in-kansas-apply-extra-heat-to-gop-lawmakers

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