What was Hillary Clinton thinking?
On Monday, she sent a message to Kansas — she could’ve sent the same one to Missouri — urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid.
“Health care for Kansas families should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few,” she wrote. “The Kansas Legislature and Governor (Sam) Brownback should use this session to do the right thing and pass a bill that expands Medicaid.”
Clinton should’ve known she was shouting into a Kansas twister. The impact this had on Brownback was about the same as if New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick suggested a few plays to Chiefs coach Andy Reid before the big game Saturday. Reid wouldn’t pay any attention, and neither did Brownback.
The very next day, in fact, Brownback announced that he had hardened his stand on the issue. After months of signaling that, well, maybe Medicaid expansion might be OK, he stomped on it.
“It was Obamacare that cut Medicare reimbursements to rural hospitals,” Brownback said in his State of the State address in a reference to the closing of Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kan. “It was Obamacare that caused the problem. We should not expand Obamacare to solve the problem.”
His point about hospital closings is debatable. What’s not is the impact the closing of Mercy Hospital had on rural Kansas. It caused some softening of anti-expansion hardline stands. A statewide poll last fall by Fort Hays State University showed 62 percent of Kansans “strongly” or “somewhat” supported expansion.
Still, passing it would’ve been tough in an election year where conservatives still control GOP primaries. Knowing that, Brownback had little to lose in making sure the idea and the $400 million it would usher in didn’t gain any steam. Standing strong against something is always a good tactic for a politician in trouble. Brownback, you might recall, ranks as the least popular governor in the country right now.
The continuing opposition to Medicaid expansion in both Kansas and Missouri is something to behold. In Kansas, the state faces a $190 million deficit. In Missouri, schools continue to be underfunded. And yet, lawmakers stand resolutely against a program that would bring hundreds of millions into their states and free up dollars for use in other programs — even building highways.
“It’s a little surprising,” noted state Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican.
In March, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon estimated that expansion would generate savings and new revenue for the budget to the tune of $117 million.
Kansas is so desperate for cash these days that it continues to raid the highway fund and now is even dipping into children’s programs.
Then there’s the matter of providing health coverage to tens of thousands of uninsured residents.
Thirty-one states have expanded Medicaid. That includes nine with Republican governors who have either grown the program or defended past expansions. One of those is in nearby Arkansas, where Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe grew Medicaid in 2013 with a novel approach: He used federal dollars to buy private coverage for 220,000 low-income people. His successor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a conservative Republican, has said he’ll stay the course.
“I opposed and continue to oppose the Affordable Care Act,” Hutchinson told The New York Times. But, he added, “we’re a compassionate state, and we’re not going to leave 220,000 people without some recourse.”
Voters say they want politicians who stay the course, who stick by their beliefs. On this issue in Kansas and Missouri, we’ve got them in abundance.