The Kansas House upheld Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion on Monday, dealing a major setback to its prospects of passing this year.
The House vote on the override attempt was 81-44 – three votes shy of a successful override.
The House initially approved HB 2044 in February. The Senate approved it last week. But Brownback vetoed the proposal on Thursday, saying the costs of expansion would be “irresponsible and unsustainable.”
A two-thirds majority vote in the House would have sent the bill to the Senate for an override vote; success there would have made the bill law. Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s communications director, said House members “served their constituents well today.”
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“While Congress and the President continue to discuss the future of health care, not expanding Obamacare is the right choice for Kansas,” she said in a statement.
Medicaid, called KanCare in Kansas, is the government insurance program for people who have low incomes or who are disabled.
Hospitals and health groups have pushed for years for the state to expand eligibility to about 150,000 Kansans under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Kansas is among nearly 20 states that have resisted expanding the federal program.
Supporters say expansion would benefit vulnerable Kansans and provide an influx of federal dollars to help local hospitals. Opponents worry expansion would further burden the state’s budget – and they point to federal attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, asked lawmakers to override the governor’s veto, saying Medicaid expansion would boost economic development across the state.
“Medicaid expansion is a path out of poverty helping low-income Kansans pay health costs and reduce debt,” Concannon said. “It provides support for the local hospitals and the communities.
“Your communities, your people, want this,” she told lawmakers. “I ask for you to vote yes for a healthy Kansas.”
Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, said expansion would primarily benefit hospitals in the Kansas City and Wichita areas.
“This plan does not prioritize rural Kansas,” Francis said. “Western Kansas hospitals stand to benefit the least.”
Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, urged House leadership to work on a plan that could expand Medicaid in a more “fiscal neutral way.”
Support of Medicaid expansion was a campaign issue for many Democrats and some moderate Republicans who swept into the Legislature in last fall’s election.
Freshman Rep. Steven Crum, D-Haysville, said he was disappointed by the vote. He said more lawmakers should have listened to public feedback urging expansion.
“This is a moral issue, not a political issue,” Crum said. “(Expansion proponents) want to make sure people get the care they deserve.”
Crum said the failed override probably kills expansion chances this year. But he said he hopes lawmakers will take up the issue again.
Freshman Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said the Legislature needed to find a better way to help low-income Kansans who earn too little to buy insurance through the federal health care exchange but too much to otherwise qualify for Medicaid.
“I feel for them, and we need to search for a way to help them,” Humphries said.
She added that federal uncertainty about the fate of the Affordable Care Act could make expanding Medicaid “unsustainable” in future years.
This is the closest the state has come to expanding Medicaid after proposals struggled to gain traction in previous years.
Proponents flooded hearings to show their support this session. And lawmakers forced expansion onto the House floor after it initially stalled in a committee in February.
David Jordan, executive director of the pro-expansion group Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said in a statement the result was a disappointing “lost opportunity” to bring federal dollars back to Kansas. The federal government now pays for 90 percent of expansion costs.
“Our outreach and organizing in the communities of legislators who sided with the governor on this issue has already started.
“We will continue to work hard to expand KanCare,” he said. “Too much is at stake.”
How they voted
Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on the proposal to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 2044, which seeks to expand Medicaid. The vote was 81-44; 84 votes were needed for an override.
Democrats voting yes: All area Democrats voted to override.
Republicans voting yes: Roger Elliott, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston
Republicans voting no: Leo Delperdang, Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, Greg Lakin, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, John Whitmer, Wichita; Doug Blex, Independence; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Pete DeGraaf, Mulvane; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Les Mason, McPherson; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham; Kristey Williams, Augusta