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Lawmakers had the votes, but not the will, to expand Medicaid

Republican legislators said they couldn’t afford an estimated $50 million to expand Medicaid but see no problem giving a $245 million tax break to the privileged few.

That’s the upshot of this year’s legislative session that ended in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Ultra-conservatives are now walking around with puffed-out chests while moderates and Democrats lick their wounds.

It’s not until enough leaders believe healthcare is a right, and not a privilege, that our poor and disabled will be adequately served.

Until then, it will continue to be a bargaining chip, a political tool.

When compared to our neighbors Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, Kansas ranks lowest in health outcomes, according to the United Health Foundation. All three states have passed Medicaid expansion. Their residents live healthier and longer lives, and their poor and disabled receive affordable health care. Of the 36 states that have expanded Medicaid, not one has reversed its stance. Why should they? Expansion brings in hundreds of millions of federal funds, creates thousands of jobs, keeps people healthy and helps hospitals and clinics keep their doors open.

Healthcare advocates hoped a stand-off between a bipartisan coalition and ultra-conservative Republicans last weekend would take us to that promised land.

The House’s goal was to withhold passage of a budget in order to pressure the Senate to vote on Medicaid expansion so that an additional 130,000-150,000 Kansans would qualify for health benefits.

(The numbers to pass the legislation were there, if only Senate leadership would have let the vote to occur.)

Friday began with moderate Republicans sticking to their guns as late that afternoon the first budget vote was defeated 63-61.

Outraged, budget negotiators from the House and Senate responded with severe cuts including those to higher ed, prisons and hospitals. For hospitals, the cuts would have meant a loss of $250 million in matching federal funds. Universities and colleges were on the chopping block for $10 million.

Now it was moderate Republicans’ turn to feel incensed. That second and more punitive budget went down by a whopping 81-42 margin.

Both times, Rep. Kent Thompson, R-LaHarpe, sided with moderates, and to his credit, conferred with Gov. Laura Kelly to try to find common ground.

But when Republican leadership showed no signs of relenting and then promised discussion next year on Medicaid expansion, the moderates caved.  Expansion, it seemed, was just not that important.

The House passed the budget 79-45.

Why moderates feel confident in leadership’s promise is anyone’s guess. For the first time in five years the stars were aligned just enough for expansion passage to happen had the Senate called for a vote.

But absent a threat to hold up the budget, the House lost its leverage and the Senate never looked back.

To add insult to injury, Republicans then pushed through tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and those who do business overseas.

 

OUR TAKE?

Kansans need to elect legislators willing to fight for their values. That was unfortunately missing last weekend.

— Susan Lynn

 

 

 

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