“So is your question about Medicaid?” a video shows Gov. Jeff Colyer asking one of the people gathered during his tour of northeast Kansas on Saturday.
In another part of the video: “I’m not going to debate the rest of this with you,” Colyer says. “But I appreciate it. I have people to get to here.”
The video, which had been shared nearly 1,000 times on Facebook by Tuesday afternoon, was compiled by Living and Dying in Kansas, a grassroots organization that supports Medicaid expansion. After members of their organization questioned Colyer in several locations, they asked others to send in similar videos and created a compilation.
"The video shows Colyer not answering multiple questions or stories about Medicaid expansion while on his tour, during which he visited Manhattan, Atchison, Leavenworth, Junction City and Wamego."
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Colyer has opposed Medicaid expansion for years. He has been critical of the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the video Tuesday.
Brandon Irwin, a member of Living and Dying in Kansas who lives in Manhattan, appears less than a minute into the video, when Colyer says he isn’t there to debate.
“It’s hard to imagine a more important moment to exercise your transparency than engaging with your constituents and telling them what you believe about the issue at hand here, which is Medicaid expansion. He simply shut that conversation down,” Irwin said.
Some posted criticisms on social media of the people who questioned Colyer, calling their actions an ambush and public harassment.
The Manhattan Mercury reported Sunday that Colyer “evaded a group of people shouting and questioning his position on Medicaid” and that the group followed him to his car.
Garrett Wilkinson, a graduate student pursuing a PhD in public health, said he told Colyer about friends who could have been “saved from financial ruin” if they had Medicaid.
“He not only expressed no sympathy, but he said people that would benefit from Medicaid expansion in Kansas are people who choose not to have jobs, which is not true,” Wilkinson said. “… When he’s pressed on his actual views, he reveals he’s almost identical to his predecessor.”
Polls, including those by the Kansas Health Institute and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, show that more than two-thirds of Kansans favor Medicaid expansion.
Although Medicaid expansion passed the Kansas House and Senate last year, then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the bill that would have expanded the health care program to about 150,000 people in the state.
In his veto message, Brownback said the expansion “fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs.”
As lieutenant governor, Colyer helped lead the creation of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.
In an address to lawmakers last week, he said his priorities for the program are to improve outcomes for enrollees and bend down costs. He also said he supports additional “work opportunies for able-bodied adults which encourage better health outcomes.”
“I want to work with you to make sure this critical program continues to imporve for the betterment of the more than 400,000 Kansans it serves,” Colyer said.
In 2016, Colyer said on Twitter that Medicaid expansion would “soon be dead.” But although Republicans — many of whom have criticized Obamacare — control both the House and Senate and the White House, they have been unable to pass legislation to end the program or eliminate expansion.
Sheldon Weisgrau, acting director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said he doesn’t want to speculate whether Colyer might veto an expansion bill if it were to again pass both chambers.
He said he was concerned that Colyer cited incorrect facts, such as when he said people who work full time are not eligible for Medicaid expansion.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee will hold a hearing on The Bridge to a Healthy Kansas, a bill that would expand health care coverage to 150,000 low-income Kansans, most of whom work but can’t afford health insurance.
David Jordan, president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, said he thinks the video shows that Kansans support expanding KanCare and are “looking for answers.”
“There’s currently a lot of energy and enthusiasm for expanding KanCare,” Jordan said. “The governor set the tone that he would listen to Kansans and Kansans are now holding him to his word that he’s going to listen to them.”