Despite Strong Public Support, Kansas’ Medicaid Expansion Measure Was Struck Down


A bill to expand Medicaid was acted on Thursday by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita and head of the health committee. (Kansas Reflector’s Sherman Smith)

NOTE: This is TOPEKA. Thursday, Republican lawmakers put an end to a bill to expand Medicaid. This came after one day of debate, 900 pro-expansion speeches, and dozens of protests across the state by Kansans who were desperate for more health care coverage.

The move makes it much less likely that the bill will be passed during this year’s congressional session.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita, was the main person who spoke out against House Bill 2556, the current bill to expand Medicaid. Landwehr, who is the head of a House committee that heard the bill Thursday, asked for action Thursday after the bill was heard on Wednesday. Landwehr was backed by other Republicans on the committee in her resistance to expansion. It was a party-line vote from the five Democrats and the twelve Republicans on the committee.

“But why add to a system that doesn’t work?” Landwehr said to explain her choice. “That makes no sense to me.”

A number of Democrats on the committee said that their peers should be able to speak out about the bill.

Rep. Christina Haswood, a Democrat from Lawrence, said, “If this bill is so unpopular, give this a chance to have that vote on the House floor, so not just 17 of us will be able to decide this huge of an issue.”

Many people in the state have been calling for growth for months, and Gov. Laura Kelly said she was disappointed by the decision.

It’s clear that Kansans strongly want to expand Medicaid and are getting worried about the legislature’s lack of action, Kelly said. Keep speaking out, Kansans, so we can get this bill to the floors of both the House and the Senate for a debate and vote.

The expansion of Medicaid could be moved to a different committee, added to another bill, or brought to the House floor if enough lawmakers approve it.

But that’s not likely to happen because top Republicans in the House and Senate are still strongly against expansion, even though most people on both sides of the aisle back it.

Both Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins have called it a way to “expand the welfare state.” However, most of the 150,000 Kansans who would gain from expansion are low-income workers or Kansans who have long-term illnesses.

Families with less money would be able to get health care through the state if Medicaid was expanded. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government pays 90% of the extra cost of Medicaid services. In return, people who make 138% or less of the federal poverty level are now eligible.

Expanding Medicaid would also bring in an extra $700 million a year in government funds and help save 59 rural hospitals that were about to close. Wednesday was the first time in four years that leaders in the legislature let people talk about expanding health care coverage in the state.

Support comes from all over the state, including people who work in health care, people who fight for disability rights, Kansans who don’t have insurance, and even the state’s sheriffs, since the bill’s Medicaid expansion would cover medical costs for people in county jails.

Sheriff Jeff Easter of Sedgwick County said that taking care of inmates’ health needs could be “devastating,” especially in rural counties. Easter spoke on Wednesday on behalf of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association to support Medicaid treatment in jails as a way to help counties save money.

“A lot of sick people come into the jail,” Easter told the politicians in the task force. “By law and common sense, we have to give these prisoners very good care, since most of them haven’t had care in years.” “That is getting very expensive.”

As part of House Bill 2556, people who are in county jails would be able to get Medicaid benefits. The part was added at the request of law enforcement to a Medicaid expansion bill that the governor backed.

People in jail are no longer covered by Medicaid by the state, which many people have called cruel. To re-enroll, people must wait to be released from the system. Kansas prisons and jails are required to give medicine to people who are in their care, and Kansas counties pay for health care and treatment inside the prisons.

The Sedgwick County Jail can hold more than 1,500 people at once, and Easter said that some of the prisoners had very high hospital bills. He showed a prisoner who had been to the hospital 18 times and racked up a $1,004,588.92 bill for it.

A person who had been in jail for more than two years was treated 25 times, and the jail was charged for 65 different treatments. Easter said it cost about $629,700 altogether.

“I use that as an example because more small counties would go bankrupt if you did that.” I don’t think they can pay for that, Easter said. “When I became sheriff 12 years ago, our budget for health care was $4 million.” We spend more than $9 million every year. People in our counties just want some relief for their local taxes on this issue so that their money can be spent in other ways in our counties.

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