With Medicaid Expansion in gridlock, plan supporters hit the road

Published: Mar. 2, 2020 at 6:30 PM CST
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Kansas lawmakers are on break as the midway point of the legislative session.

Democratic Governor Laura Kelly and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning visited Wichita on Monday. They spoke before hospital administrators and faith leaders, pushing for an end to the gridlock for the Medicaid Expansion.

It comes nearly two months after they initially released their bipartisan plan for expansion.

"It’s a good piece of policy. It touches ⅙ of the Kansas economy, gives healthcare to the public sector, which is Medicaid, and it can reduce healthcare premiums by a third on the individual market," said Sen. Denning.

After weeks of committee hearings on the bill in the Senate, Medicaid expansion has made little progress.

"The compromise language bill is sitting in Senate hell," Denning remarked Monday.

He and Gov. Kelly reached out to constituents to end the stalemate.

The governor said to achieve the implementation of expansion on the current timeline, the bill will need to be passed this month.

"We really needed to get it done yesterday to make it possible to administratively get this put together and flip the switch next January," said Gov. Kelly.

The Kansas House came up short in its vote to pass a constitutional amendment ballot proposal that would say the state constitution does not protect abortion.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle and other members of GOP leadership in the Senate have tied the fate of the expansion plan to the abortion amendment.

"A radical new ruling comes down from the Kansas Supreme Court that wipes all of our abortion restrictions off the law books, and if we expand Medicaid under those circumstances, then our Kansas taxpayer dollars would be funding all the abortions in the Medicaid system," said Sen. Wagle.

Denning told the roundtables on Monday that the Medicaid Expansion bill doesn't include coverage for pregnant women, instead, it relies on the existing Medicaid program.

"We did that by design," said Denning. "We left the pregnant women over in the existing Medicaid. The traditional Medicaid. Because it goes up to 171 percent of the federal poverty level for pregnant women, so they have way better coverage under existing Medicaid than they do expanding Medicaid."

The expansion could cover up to 150,000 Kansans.

Denning broke down a number that has been used by supporters of the amendment.

"There’s been some discussion about 33,000 people, patients coming from ACA exchange moving to Medicaid Expansion. That number is probably pretty close," said the GOP majority leader. "If we’re talking about abortions, we have to look at the population that’s female between the ages of 18 and 44, and when you look at that, it brings the number down to 12,000, and when you apply the CDC calculation for Kansas pregnancies, you take that by 6.47 percent, and you get 314 potential pregnancies out of 33,000 people. So the number is meaningless in this debate. Another reason to separate those two issues."

By breaking it into two issues, Denning said it could help make for a smoother passage for the amendment.

"I voted for the abortion amendment; I’m pro-life. I want the amendment to pass; I don’t plan on going home until we get the abortion amendment passed. What I don’t agree with is holding up the healthcare bill," Dennig said.

To move the process of this bill along, Denning he's considering a procedural move to pull the bill out of the committee and move it to the floor. To do that, he would need 24 senators to support the effort. Right now, he only has 22.

"Right now, the bill is in committee, and we’ve told our colleagues, as soon as that amendment passes the House, we’ll debate Medicaid Expansion," said Wagle.


tweeted support for Senator Wagle.

Gov. Kelly said she hopes stops like the one she made in Wichita on Monday can help push the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

"I think at some point, we’ll either have to do the 24 votes, pull it from committee or perhaps with the persuasion that we’re hoping that folks that we met with today will exert, we can get the two issues separated and let Medicaid Expansion go on its own," said the governor.

Bethany Missionary Baptist Rev. C Richard Kirkendoll said the healthcare bill is an issue many in his congregation want to see achieved.

"They fall in different categories. Some of them are working, but they just don’t make enough money where it covers healthcare, and they deal with health issues all the time. Expanding this Medicaid would greatly serve that purpose," said Kirkendoll.