Kelly touts Medicaid expansion

Speaking to Kansas lawmakers, Governor Laura Kelly noted there is ‘no valid excuse’ for not expanding Medicaid. House and Senate committees will hold hearings Wednesday on Medicaid expansion.



March 19, 2024 - 2:34 PM

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly urges lawmakers to pass Medicaid expansion at a news conference in Liberal. Photo by Allison Kite/Kansas Reflector

LIBERAL — Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday pressured rank-and-file legislators to vote to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income Kansans, saying there is “no valid excuse” for not supporting the policy.

Kelly, a second-term Democrat, threw down the gauntlet in a news conference in Liberal at Southwest Medical Center, Seward County’s only hospital. The first five times she tried to get the Kansas Legislature to expand Medicaid, she said, she took a bipartisan, collaborative approach.

“That hasn’t worked,” Kelly said, “so I decided this has become a political issue, so I will take a more political approach to it.”

Kelly spent last summer and fall touring the state and touting the benefits of Medicaid expansion to build pressure on Kansas lawmakers — all 165 of whom are up for reelection this fall. In December, she unveiled her latest Medicaid expansion proposal, which includes controversial work requirements, in an attempt to compromise with Republican lawmakers.

“At this point, any legislator standing in the way of Medicaid expansion is going against a commonsense, fiscally responsible proposal that benefits their constituents, their hospitals, their businesses, their community and our entire state,” Kelly said Monday.

Kansas lawmakers in the House and Senate are expected to hold hearings Wednesday on Medicaid expansion. It’s the first time in four years legislative leaders have allowed hearings on expansion.

Medicaid expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, allows states to extend health care coverage to adults who make up to 138% of the federal poverty line, primarily at the expense of the federal government. It’s meant to help adults who can’t afford to buy health insurance in the marketplace but make too much money to qualify for the existing Medicaid program, which only covers adults who make up to 38% of the poverty line, about $11,400 for a family of four.

Kelly’s Medicaid expansion proposal — which extends coverage to 150,000 Kansas residents — would allow a family of four with a household income of up to $41,400 to receive coverage.

Kansas is one of 10 remaining states that have not expanded Medicaid. Every state that borders Kansas has adopted Medicaid expansion.

Kansas hospital executives have long supported Medicaid expansion, and proponents of the policy say it would help rural health care providers. Kansas has lost nine rural hospitals in the past 20 years, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. The organization reports about 28% of the remaining 104 rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing and 58% are at some risk of closing.

“I don’t know how many more hospitals, health clinics and emergency rooms must close before we expand Medicaid in Kansas,” Kelly said. “The answer should be zero.”

Just last month, the Care Arc Health Clinic in Eureka closed its doors.

Kansas lawmakers previously passed Medicaid expansion in 2017, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, vetoed the bill.

Polling in Kansas shows a majority of Republican voters — and an even greater share of Democrats — support expanding Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid could bring down health care costs even for residents who aren’t enrolled in the program, Kelly said. It would reduce the number of uninsured residents who wind up in emergency rooms where hospitals are required to treat them regardless of their ability to pay.