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    Protesters last year targeted Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning for blocking Medicaid expansion. Now he and Gov. Laura Kelly have settled on a compromise. Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

No time to lose on expanding Medicaid

We appreciate Gov. Laura Kelly’s cautious optimism that Kansas is on track to become the 37th state to approve Medicaid expansion.

“We’re not here to declare victory,” she said in a press conference Thursday. “We need to think of this as more of a halftime pep talk.”

Standing beside the governor was Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, Overland Park Republican, who has spearheaded the recent bipartisan negotiations.

The compromise ensures those earning up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level — or about $35,500 for a family of four — will qualify for health insurance, covering an additional 150,000 Kansans. Currently, more than 350,000 disabled, elderly, and low-income Kansans depend on Medicaid, known as KanCare. If approved, the federal government would pay 90% of the additional cost, and Kansas the remainder, an estimated $35 million.

The plan also includes an effort to drive down the cost of health insurance premiums so more low-income Kansas could remain on their private plans.

 

DENNING’S significance is that he was the roadblock last year when a supermajority was needed to override Senate President Susan Wagle’s refusal to bring Medicaid expansion to a vote.

Denning’s defense at the time was that the fervor over expansion had turned it into an unappealing “emotional issue,” and “I base all my decisions on good policy.”

We contend that denying health insurance to 150,000 low-income Kansans for the last 10 years has been a terrible policy that has affected their wellbeing and livelihoods. 

The expansion is also a lifeline to rural hospitals, especially, whose clientele are disproportionately poor and lack health insurance. Today, an approximate 30 Kansas hospitals are teetering on the brink of insolvency, in part because of this denied funding.

Many feared Denning wouldn’t follow through on his promise at session’s end that he would work on expansion for 2020. 

Politics helped bring him to the table. 

Democratic Rep. Cindy Holscher has filed to run against Denning this fall in what has become an increasingly progressive part of the state, making Denning vulnerable. 

 

THOSE OPPOSED to Medicaid expansion have numerous arguments — all baseless. 

“You know and I know there’s a recession coming,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, in late November in justification of its defeat. 

We’re not sure what to make of Landwehr’s gloomy prognostication, which likely comes as a surprise to GOP higher-ups.

In Kansas, income and sales taxes have exceeded expectations for 30 of the last 31 months, dating back to June 2017. And receipts for the most recent fiscal year were up 5.7%, or an estimated $193 million. 

Abortion foes are tying their opposition to the newly crafted plan because it does not request a constitutional amendment rejecting abortion be on the November ballot.

Under Kansas law, no Medicaid funds can go toward abortion unless the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.

To withhold health insurance for 150,000 people on such a tenuous premise seems beyond punitive.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, points out the Kansas Republican Party’s platform opposes Medicaid expansion. 

And Wagle likened Medicaid to socialism, the current catchphrase for anything Republicans don’t like.

 

EXPANDING Medicaid is the right thing to do fiscally and morally. The fewer people we have in desperate situations, the all-around healthier we are as a state. 

The legislative session begins today. There’s no time to waste.

— Susan Lynn

 

 

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