Medicaid expansion at center of rally

At Statehouse rally, Gov. Laura Kelly takes another swing at Kansas Medicaid expansion.



March 7, 2024 - 2:12 PM

Kansans attended a rally Wednesday to urge lawmakers to hear a Medicaid expansion proposal. Photo by Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — About 200 Kansans crowded into the second floor of the Statehouse and around the third floor rotunda Wednesday, giving standing ovations as speakers urged lawmakers to hear a Medicaid expansion proposal for the first time in years.

Gov. Laura Kelly, unwilling to let a Medicaid expansion proposal die without a hearing for the fourth year in a row, was one of the speakers whipping up support.

“There are no more valid excuses for not expanding Medicaid,” Kelly said to a cheering crowd. “… Expanding Medicaid is the smartest, sanest way to keep Kansas moving forward.”

The governor toured the state last fall to lobby for Medicaid expansion in advance of the legislative session. House Speaker Dan Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson have resisted her efforts, characterizing expansion as a move that would broaden the “welfare state” and provide care to able-bodied Kansans instead of the “truly needy.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 90% of the extra cost of Medicaid services in exchange for expanding eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty rate. Most of the estimated 150,000 Kansans who would benefit from expansion are low-income workers or Kansans suffering from chronic illness. Representatives for the two leaders did not respond to a Kansas Reflector inquiry for this story.

Medicaid expansion would unlock $700 million in annual federal funding and could potentially save 59 rural hospitals on the brink of closing.

Despite widespread support for Medicaid expansion — one statewide poll puts the number at 68% of registered voters in favor of expansion — the Republican-dominated Legislature has been slow to action.

Democrats introduced a Medicaid expansion bill in both chambers in late January. Pressure has increased as the days go by without any movement.

“What do we need to do?” one speaker asked the crowd during Wednesday rally.

“Expand Medicaid,” the crowd chanted back.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, which organized the rally, said the House has not held a public hearing on a Medicaid expansion bill since 2017, while the Senate hasn’t heard any proposals since 2020. Lawmakers last came close to adopting Medicaid expansion in 2020, when former Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning worked out a bipartisan deal with Kelly.

The deal fell apart as Republicans, angered by a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that established a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, prioritized placing an anti-abortion constitutional amendment before voters.

At Wednesday’s event, April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, pointed rally attendees toward a table filled with lawmakers’ information, encouraging them to reach out to their legislators.

“We will together overcome the hurdles we are facing,” Holman said.