Politics & Government

Health care activists slam Kansas lawmakers for failing to expand Medicaid

A diverse group of activists gathered at the Capitol on Monday to chide Kansas lawmakers for failing to hold a hearing on Medicaid expansion before adjourning its 2016 session last week.

Speakers at the event, organized by the newly formed Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, included faith leaders, business leaders and medical professionals. They called on lawmakers to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to enable 150,000 uninsured Kansans to gain health coverage.

As they spoke, a projector showed a ticker documenting second by second the amount of federal money the state has forfeited since 2014 by refusing to expand Medicaid. The number now stands at more than $1.1 billion.

“Can you imagine us turning down military funds, highway funds, some other federal funds to the tune of $1.1 billion?” asked physician Eric Voth, vice president for primary care at Stormont Vail Health in Topeka.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who observed the event, said that unless the make-up of the Legislature significantly changes with the upcoming election, it’s unlikely efforts to expand Medicaid will gain more traction next legislative session.

“If you don’t change the people in the seats in the Legislature, you don’t change the outcome. You then just become another feel-good group that made the good fight, but wasn’t willing to do what it takes to win,” Ward said. “We need new people.”

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, pushed back on support for Medicaid expansion.

“The vast majority of Kansans oppose spending tens of millions of dollars to give health care to able-bodied, working-aged adults who have no dependents, and I agree with them,” he said. “We should judge the success of our government safety net by how many people we get off welfare, not by how many we get on it.”

David Jordan, the alliance’s executive director, said the group would be active during the election, but that it would not endorse candidates since it is restricted as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Father Robert Schremmer of Dodge City alludes to the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain why Kansas policymakers should expand Medicaid.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3