Kansas Senate votes to expand Medicaid as Gov. Sam Brownback doubles down on opposition

March 27, 2017

By Hunter Woodall and Bryan Lowry

Kansas lawmakers ignored Gov. Sam Brownback’s wishes Monday and gave initial approval to a bill that would expand Medicaid to thousands in the state.

The Kansas Senate voted 25 to 13 to expand KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, after a lengthy debate Monday afternoon.

The Senate still needs to give final approval to the measure, which takes advantage of a key provision of Obamacare, in a vote that is expected to come Tuesday.

“I can’t believe it took this long to do it,” said Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican. “….This is something that’s long overdue.”

House Bill 2044 would expand health care coverage to an estimated 150,000 people in Kansas. Moderate Republicans and Democrats helped push the bill through the Legislature this session in a stark contrast from past years where expansion efforts failed to gain much traction in either chamber.

David Jordan, the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, one of the main advocacy groups pushing the bill, said he thinks the “level of support in both chambers reflects the fact that a majority of Kansans support expanding KanCare. … They understand what this means for keeping their local hospital open.”

Conservative Republicans tried repeatedly to change the Senate legislation before it came to a vote. All of those efforts failed, however, with moderate Republicans frequently siding with Senate Democrats in opposition to the changes.

“It’s very gratifying that people had the sense to see that we needed to not be distracted by the political games that are being played in Washington, D.C., and we needed to try to help our own people,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Opponents of the bill have spent much of the 2017 session downplaying the legislation’s chances because of uncertainty over how health care would change under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“We’re standing at an amusement park ride that’s closed,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who voted against expansion. “It’s broken. And we’re saying we want to go ahead and get on the ride. There’s a reason there’s nobody in line behind us.”

But the opponents’ argument faded slightly after U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, canceled a vote on a bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act and effectively barred states from expanding Medicaid beyond March 1, due to a lack of GOP support.

The Affordable Care Act enabled states to expand Medicaid, which provides health coverage to the disabled and low-income families, to cover people who earn too little to buy insurance through the federal health care exchange but also earn too much to otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

“To expand Obamacare when the program is in a death spiral is not responsible policy,” Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s spokeswoman, said in a statement as the Senate kicked off debate on the bill.

Nineteen states, including Kansas and Missouri, have yet to expand the program. Based on Willoughby’s statement it appears unlikely that Brownback will allow it to become law.

“Kansas must prioritize the care and service of vulnerable Kansans, addressing their health care needs in a sustainable way, not expanding a failing entitlement program to able-bodied adults,” Willoughby said.

If Brownback vetoes the bill, it would take 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate to override his opposition.

Once he gets the bill, the governor has 10 days to either sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.

Conservative lawmakers have said they hope that Brownback vetoes the bill, while moderates and Democrats fear he’ll do just that.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican who opposes expansion, said he can’t see Brownback letting the expansion happen under the bill’s provisions.

“If he holds to what he’s said in the past, I would say he’ll probably veto it,” Hawkins said.

This article was originally published in the Kansas City Star website, here.