Politics & Government

Kansas House advances Medicaid expansion

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The Kansas House advanced a measure to expand Medicaid after a lengthy debate Wednesday.

Supporters said Medicaid expansion would help with health care access for more than 150,000 Kansans and bring millions of federal dollars to Kansas.

“It’s going to protect people. It’s going to help people. It’s going to spur economic development,” said Rep. Steven Crum, D-Haysville.

But others questioned whether the state could afford expansion or whether Kansas should expand Medicaid as Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“The timing is not right for this,” said Rep. Greg Lakin, R-Wichita, who ultimately voted for the bill. He had suggested “postponing it for a while until we could find out what our tax situation is, until we knew what the Supreme Court was going to do with our schools.”

The proposal would establish a health insurance program for people who meet income requirements. The federal government would pay for most of the costs.

The vote came after a bill to expand Medicaid had been tabled Monday in a House committee until at least April 3. Expansion supporters amended a separate bill Wednesday to add Medicaid expansion; that passed 85-40. After numerous other amendments failed, the bill advanced in the House, 83-40.

The bill still must win final House passage before heading to the Senate.

The vote was a victory for proponents of expansion, which gained momentum after Democrats and moderate Republicans gained seats in the Legislature in the November election.

“This is a very important and positive step forward,” said David Jordan, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. “It was great to see the overwhelming majority of the House bring our federal tax dollars back, to protect our hospitals, to create jobs, and, most importantly, to improve the health of 150,000 Kansans.”

Gov. Sam Brownback opposes expansion, contending it is not affordable and would mainly help urban hospitals.

“Kansas should not tie itself to this failed program of the past just before its inevitable demise,” he said in a statement earlier this month.

Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, brought the amendment to the floor, pointing to hospitals and health groups that supported expansion during several committee hearings earlier this month.

“They are asking us to allow them to take care of their patients,” Concannon said.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, questioned whether the federal uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act came up during the hearings. He said hospitals in his district would benefit from expansion, but added that he was worried about the cost of expansion.

“We have a very tight situation as far as money that can be expended in this state,” Waymaster said.

Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence, said the closing of Mercy Hospital had a devastating impact on his district.

“The doctors left and there’s no continuity of health care for the residents,” Kelly said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

He said expansion could help save dozens of hospitals, particularly in rural areas.

“Think if your town was Independence,” Kelly said. “Next time … it could be your district.”

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on HB 2044, which was amended to expand Medicaid.

Democrats voting yes: All area Democrats voted yes.

Republicans voting yes: Roger Elliott, Greg Lakin, Wichita; Steven Becker, Buhler; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, Arkansas City; Don Schroeder, Hesston; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham.

Republicans voting no: Leo Delperdang, Daniel Hawkins, Susan Humphries, Brenda Landwehr, Les Osterman, Chuck Weber, John Whitmer, Wichita; Doug Blex, Independence; Blake Carpenter, Derby; Pete DeGraaf, Mulvane; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Les Mason, McPherson; Kristey Williams, Augusta.

Republicans not voting: Steve Huebert, Valley Center