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Kansas GOP senator denounces Brownback administration memo on Medicaid expansion, exposing a growing rift in the party

Kansas Sen. Jeff King
Kansas Sen. Jeff King

A Republican state senator in Kansas has blasted a memo from a spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback that claimed expanding Medicaid in the state would be “morally reprehensible.”

The newsletter, from GOP state Sen. Jeff King, provides further evidence that at least some Kansas Republicans are stepping away from the governor’s office, on issues from tax reform to Medicaid expansion.

King — the vice president of the state Senate — represents the district that includes the now-closed hospital in Independence, Kan. His release takes aim at a memo from Melika Willoughby, the governor’s deputy communications director, that sharply criticized the idea of expanding Medicaid in the state.

Willoughby called that expansion “morally reprehensible.”

King denounced her claim. “I refuse to make moral judgments based on a person’s view of Medicaid expansion,” he writes in the newsletter. “I wish Ms. Willoughby would have done the same.

“Maybe if her hospital were closing. Maybe if her parents were wondering where to go for emergency care. Maybe if she faced uncertainty in her health care future, she would view those looking for health care answers in a little less judgmental light. I leave that for her to sleep on at night,” he added.

King says he supports expanding Medicaid, but through a private insurer.

“Our health care system failed Independence and it is failing tens of thousands of hardworking Kansans,” the letter says. “I don’t have all of the answers, but saying no to everything isn’t an option. I look forward to exploring the benefits of a conservative, Kansas-focused Medicaid expansion based on private insurance.

“Maybe, after we weigh our options and the costs of doing nothing, Ms. Willoughby will be less hasty to morally condemn those trying to solve our state’s toughest problems.”

The full newsletter can be read on King’s Facebook page.

NEW: In an email Friday, the governor’s office said Willoughby’s original memo wasn’t meant to criticize any particular legislator.

“The email in question was in response to editorial columns that claimed conservative resistance to Obamacare expansion was responsible for the hospital closing in Independence,” Eileen Hawley’s email said. “It was not directed toward any member of the legislature.”

Her response did not include any reaction to the specific recommendations in King’s newsletter.

As The Star and others have reported, there is no clear indication that epxanding Medicaid would have saved the hospital. Hospitals officials have said it would have helped, but other factors were involved.

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