Catholic bishops in Kansas are calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid.
Expanding the program would provide health coverage for 130,000 low-income Kansans who are uninsured now, a statement from the bishops said Thursday.
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Kansas, support expanding Medicaid to cover these individuals,” the statement reads. “Indeed, many of our brothers and sisters who cannot currently afford health insurance would gain access to it, bringing an end to the uncertainty and fear that the uninsured of our society must live with daily.”
Moderate Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly pushed for the state to expand the program under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Brownback administration and some lawmakers have raised concerns about the costs of expansion.
Kansas lawmakers have the option of raising eligibility for the program to 138 percent of the poverty line, which translates to an annual income of $32,500 for a family of four.
The state’s current eligibility limit is 38 percent of the poverty line.
The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs next year and then gradually phase down to 90 percent after that with the state providing the remainder.
The bishops, who were previously neutral on the issue, listed several reservations about Medicaid expansion, including that it would include money for contraception and that the program needs fiscal reforms.
Despite these concerns, the bishops said that expansion would bring important aid to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
“Our endorsement flows from the influence of Scripture as well as our living faith tradition. From Scripture we call to mind Luke’s parable of the ‘Good Samaritan,’” the statement from the bishops continues. “The Samaritan finds a man ‘half dead,’ is ‘moved with compassion,’ and ‘treats him with mercy’ by caring for him. The parable reminds us that the measure of a culture is the manner in which it provides for its weakest and most vulnerable.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, a Catholic and member of the Public Health and Welfare Committee, said the bishops' endorsement was long past due.
"They should've been out on this issue a long, long time ago," she said.
She added that she didn't think the bishops' support for expansion would sway opponents. "I think the aversion to Obama is too strong," she said.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, who has been vocal about opposing Medicaid expansion, also is a Catholic. She said the bishops’ endorsement would not change her position.
"I think we all agree it's important to protect our most vulnerable citizens, but I disagree strongly with their opinion that we need to put debt on our future generation," said Pilcher-Cook, who chairs the Public Health Committee. "I mean it is a kind of state usury so to speak for the next generation."
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said the bishops have the right to support Medicaid expansion, but he does not think the state can afford the long-term costs.
“They want people to give to the poor, too. But if you ain’t got money in the checking account you can’t give it to the poor,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I appreciate them. I appreciate their heart. I appreciate why they want to explain Medicaid, but you can’t spend money we don’t have.”
Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, on the other hand, saw the bishops’ endorsement as great news.
“I am not Catholic. But I strongly support Medicaid expansion,” he said. “I think the more people we can get behind it, the better off we are. Our midsized rural hospitals desperately need Medicaid expansion. It brings a lot of federal dollars into the state.”