Politics & Government

‘It’s dead’: Medicaid expansion tabled in Kansas committee

The Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee voted Monday to table a bill on Medicaid expansion.
The Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee voted Monday to table a bill on Medicaid expansion. The Wichita Eagle

Supporters of Medicaid expansion may have to wait until next year for a full vote before the Kansas Legislature.

The House Health and Human Services Committee tabled a bill Monday to expand Medicaid, which could effectively end its chances to be passed this session under legislative deadlines. Lawmakers were on the verge of deciding whether the bill would go to the House floor before all 125 representatives.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, asked to table the bill until April 3 or later to allow the Kansas Supreme Court more time to make its school finance ruling that could obligate the state to spend millions of dollars more on K-12 education. He called the impending ruling the “big elephant in the room.”

“We could get a decision next week,” Barker said. “And then what are we going to do?”

The motion passed by a divided vote. Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, indicated the delay essentially ends the bill’s chances in the Legislature this session.

No, it’s dead.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, health committee chairman

“No, it’s dead,” Hawkins said, responding to reporters’ questions about the fate of the bill.

Medicaid, called KanCare in Kansas, is the government insurance program for people with low incomes or who are disabled. Hospitals and health groups have pushed for the state to expand eligibility to more than 150,000 Kansans under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Steven Crum, D-Haysville, said the state would receive more than $1 billion from the federal government if it chose to expand.

“We have people in this state right now that cannot get the care that they need, that they deserve, because we have not expanded Medicaid,” he said.

We have people in this state right now that cannot get the care that they need, that they deserve, because we have not expanded Medicaid.

Rep. Steven Crum, D-Haysville

“Don’t let 17 people decide it,” Crum added, referring to the size of the committee. “If you’re unsure at all, send it to the floor. Let 125 people decide and debate it there.”

Expansion proponents worry that hospitals across the state, particularly in rural areas, would be vulnerable to closing without additional funds.

“I can see the impacts of a hospital closing on a community,” said Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence. “Medicaid expansion is not only providing insurance to a new group of people. But it’s also … even more so, economic development.”

Electoral advances by Democrats and moderate Republicans during the primary and general election generated some momentum for Medicaid expansion. Multiple freshman lawmakers pointed to the public support for expansion they saw on the campaign trail.

“Our hospitals are depending on it. Our communities are depending on it,” said Rep. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park. “They (constituents) have been at your forums begging for this.”

Skeptical Republican lawmakers were worried expansion would worsen the state’s fiscal condition and contribute to a ballooning national debt.

“It’s going to cost more and more and more,” said Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs. “And, right now, we’re in a situation in our government where we don’t have more.”

“It’s not money falling from heaven, people,” said Rep. Randy Powell, R-Olathe. “This is not the type of legacy that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren … that I would saddle them down with this type of debt.”

Contributing: Hunter Woodall of Kansas City Star

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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