By Tim Carpenter, October 05, 2016
Seven Republicans and Democrats running for the Legislature endorsed Wednesday changes to state policy to allow people with disabilities to earn higher incomes without sacrificing Medicaid benefits.
The Shawnee County candidates gathered in North Topeka agreed Kansas was wrong to begin whittling away at state aid of disabled people when individual incomes exceeded $725 per month. There was consensus the dollar-for-dollar shrinkage in Kansas assistance shouldn’t occur unless an individual’s income surpassed the federal poverty level of $990 monthly.
“I can’t see how anyone can live on that kind of income. I believe we need to move to the federal level,” said Rep. Jim Gartner, a Topeka Democrat seeking election in the 53rd District against Topeka Republican Richard Kress.
“Ditto,” said House candidate Chris Huntsman, a Topeka Democrat challenging 50th District incumbent Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, and her 20th District opponent Topeka Democrat Candace Ayars questioned wisdom of existing income limits for Medicaid beneficiaries, endorsed the concept of expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act and denounced state tax law signed by Gov. Sam Brownback stripping the treasury of cash that could have assisted the disabled.
“It’s causing hardships that shouldn’t be there,” said Ayars, who was primary care provider to her wheelchair-bound mother. “I understand firsthand what it’s like to struggle and cobble together the resources in order to keep loved ones in their home and let them age in place.”
“The issue will become, not whether we think it’s a good idea, but how to pay for it,” said Schmidt, referencing persistent shortfalls in tax collections. “Without revenue we can’t begin to address any of these other issues.”
The forum at Garfield Community Center was sponsored by Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, which advocates for affordable and accessible housing and transportation, health care and employment for people with disabilities.
If Medicaid eligibility were broadened in Kansas, health coverage could be extended to an estimated 150,000 low-income Kansans. The program, renamed KanCare by Brownback, is open to children, parents, frail elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities. However, Kansas has among the nation’s most restrictive income limits for enrollment.
Brownback and conservative Republicans in the Legislature have blocked consideration of proposals from the Kansas Hospital Association and other organizations to adopt Medicaid expansion.
“It is a disgrace that this state has not expanded Medicaid,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “We have a serious problem, especially out in rural Kansas, with hospital closures. I’m going to do everything I can in the next legislative session to push for expansion of Medicaid.
Hensley, opposed in the 19th District by Republican Zach Haney of Topeka, said a report by the left-leaning Urban Institute indicated more than 325,000 U.S. veterans would go without health insurance in Kansas and 18 other states, which all have Republican governors, that have not expanded Medicaid.
U.S. House candidate Britani Potter, an Ottawa Democrat running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican, said Kansas political leaders should have advocated for Medicaid expansion along with more than two dozen states.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not valuing people and making sure everybody is taken care of,” Potter said.
Seven state legislative candidates and two candidates for federal office participated in the forum, but Kress, Patton, Haney and Jenkins didn’t attend.