Politics & Government

Kansas senator’s attempt to force Medicaid vote is shot down

An attempt to force a vote on Medicaid expansion in the Kansas Senate was blocked Tuesday.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the Senate’s most ardent opponent of Medicaid expansion, offered an amendment to expand the program in an attempt to show supporters it cannot pass in the Senate.

Pilcher-Cook, the Senate Public Health and Welfare chair, said expanding the program under the Affordable Care Act would lead to higher taxes and higher health care costs.

Medicaid provides health coverage to low-income people. Expansion would insure 150,000 more Kansans, people who make too much to qualify for the program currently but also make too little to get insurance through the federal health care exchange.

“These able-bodied adults need jobs, not more welfare,” Pilcher-Cook said.

She noted that the Kansas Hospital Association has been trying to build support for the measure and said voting on the amendment would send a signal to the Kansas House about where the Senate stands on the issue.

Medicaid expansion has more support in the House – despite strong opposition from House leaders – than it does in the Senate.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, pressed Pilcher-Cook on why she wanted to vote on an amendment that she had not given a hearing in her committee. He challenged its germaneness to the underlying bill on step therapy for Medicaid patients.

The Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, ruled in Haley’s favor and found that Pilcher-Cook’s amendment too broadly expanded the scope of the bill.

Pilcher-Cook challenged the ruling, but a subsequent vote upheld it, 22-15.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, accused Senate leaders of trying to narrow the chamber’s rules in an effort to prevent a debate on a controversial matter.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the vote was about upholding the Senate’s rules rather than determining where the Senate stood on Medicaid expansion.

“I know that many of you want a chance to vote against Medicaid expansion in an election year and that could still happen,” Wagle said.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3