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Legislators hear from Kansans on Medicaid expansion, voting rights, more at Wichita forum

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, at 10:44 p.m.

Photos

Medicaid expansion and voting rights were top concerns Wednesday night as dozens of Wichita-area residents got their chance to sound off to Kansas lawmakers.

About 60 people signed up to give their two-minute take on issues such as drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, marijuana legalization, and allowing slot machines at and reopening the shuttered Wichita Greyhound Park.

The meeting drew about 200 people to a packed jury assembly room at the Sedgwick County Courthouse.

One of the most poignant moments came when Stormy Johnston, a 58-year-old Wichita State University student, pleaded with lawmakers to accept federal aid to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured low-income Kansans.

She rolled up her sleeve, showing bruises in the crook of her elbow that she got from selling her blood plasma, which she said was her only source of income beyond her student loans.

She said both she and her partner, who is 53, can’t get health care because of a quirk in the federal Affordable Care Act. They aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid coverage in Kansas, but don’t make enough to get into the health exchanges under the ACA.

“We need that changed, and we need it changed now,” Johnston said.

Kansas has been offered federal funding to cover between 90 and 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid to approximately 78,000 Kansans in the same situation. Gov. Sam Brownback has said the Legislature should make the decision.

As Johnston and others spoke, dozens in the audience held up leaflets showing their support for expanding Medicaid.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he’s seeing a groundswell of support across the state. He said when the annual legislative session begins next week, he’ll call for four days of hearings on expansion, two days for it and two against it.

But Republican Sen. Michael O’Donnell, also of Wichita, said many of the people who support expansion also complain about poor service from KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid system.

He said he’s not willing to expand Medicaid to take in thousands more people until KanCare is running more smoothly.

The other issue that drew a huge response was opposition to the state law that requires people to provide proof of citizenship – generally a birth certificate or passport – when they register to vote. That law, shepherded by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has resulted in suspension of voting privileges for about 19,000 registrants.

The audience cheered several speakers on the topic, including Derek Bruey, 18. He told lawmakers his story of his registration being suspended, even though he provided the required documentation.

He said it was ironic that the federal government accepted his proofs to register him for the draft, but the state rejected his voter application.

“I think it is really ridiculous,” he said. “I’ve shown more than enough documents to prove I’ve lived in Kansas all my life.

“I got off the (suspension) list only after I delivered this same sort of speech at the Capitol building in December,” he added.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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