Politics & Government

Brownback won’t recommend expansion of Medicaid in Kansas

Gov. Sam Brownback will not recommend that the Kansas Legislature expand Medicaid – at least not yet.

Brownback’s office e-mailed a brief statement on Monday, a few hours before the Legislature convened, that left the possibility open but made it clear that the governor would not support expansion in the short term:

“At this time I am not recommending the Legislature go ahead with the optional expansion of Medicaid,” Brownback’s statement said. “I will continue to monitor the implementation of Obamacare and I remain open-minded if improvements are made to address my concerns.”

In a conference with reporters Friday, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said legislators would take up expansion if the governor recommended it. So Brownback’s statement means the issue is likely tabled for now.

Merrick’s spokeswoman, Rachel Whitten, confirmed that the issue will not be taken up in the near future by majority Republicans.

Kansas legislators last year voted to prohibit the expansion of Medicaid through June 2015. The state’s $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program – known as KanCare – provides health coverage for about 343,000 needy and disabled Kansans.

In a brief interview, the governor said that his priority remains extending in-home services to disabled Kansans who are on a waiting list. He said he worries that expanding Medicaid – covering additional able-bodied adults – will divert resources from helping the disabled, even if the state picks up only a small share of the costs.

“That’ll all come away from people with disabilities,” he said. “That’s not a moral choice.”

Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, criticized the governor’s decision. “It’s our money,” she said, contending that Kansans have already paid for the expansion with their federal tax dollars.

Although Obamacare is flawed, the state should not wait to make health care more accessible to its residents, said Bollier, who practiced medicine before going into politics. “I am a believer in social justice as a physician,” she said.

Democrats have also called for expansion.

“People are actually dying,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, at a public forum in Wichita last week where legislators were presented with a petition of 3,000 signatures.

“I think it’s going to take the people to come to the Statehouse,” said Faust-Goudeau on what it would take to persuade some of her colleagues. “I suspect we’re going to have busloads of people in our state Capitol.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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