Government & Politics

Kansas Senate sends Medicaid expansion bill to Gov. Sam Brownback

It’s now up to Gov. Sam Brownback whether Medicaid should be expanded to thousands in Kansas.

In a 25-14 vote, the state Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would expand coverage of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to roughly 150,000 people in the state.

Brownback has said he’s against the expansion bill but has not said whether he will veto the legislation. But lawmakers are bracing for a possible veto override fight.

Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican who supports expansion, said she was “high on happiness” shortly before the final vote.

And that feeling wasn’t changed, she said, by the uncertainty of not knowing what Brownback will do once he gets the bill.

“If it was me, I’d actually want to do something for the people maybe,” Bollier said of the governor’s choice on the bill.

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Brownback will have 10 days from the time he gets the bill to decide whether to veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature.

If Brownback does veto the bill, it will take 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate to override his veto.

The bill was supported by a majority of Republicans in the Senate, though by a narrow margin. Sixteen Senate Republicans voted for the bill, while 14 voted it down.

Many conservative Republicans strongly opposed the legislation, though that opposition wasn’t enough to defeat the bill. Expansion proponents will need to flip at least two of the 14 conservatives in the Senate to a yes vote to override a veto.

That may be a tough task, as conservative lawmakers were already saying after the vote that they would not be flipped and were hopeful the Senate, or even the House, could defeat a veto override effort.

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Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and strong ally of Brownback’s, said he expects the governor will veto the bill.

“It’s foolish right now,” Masterson said about expansion.

Any veto override effort would start in the House, where lawmakers would need to pick up three votes.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, voted against the expansion effort, saying that the bill was not “revenue neutral.”

Asked whether she would reconsider her vote in the case of on override effort, Wagle said, “No.”

“I think this does add a cost on to the state,” Wagle said. “And I also believe the feds will not stick with their end of the bargain.”

Under the Affordable Care Act states can expand Medicaid, with the federal government covering roughly 90 percent of the costs.

For much of the 2017 session, lawmakers pushing to expand Medicaid had to contend with the threat that the act, also known as Obamacare, would be scrapped by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration.

The possible repeal and replacement of Obamacare was cited as a reason for lawmakers to vote against the bill when it passed the House last month on an 81-44 vote.

But last week as the Kansas Senate prepared to vote on expansion, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled a bill that would have gutted much of Obamacare and effectively barred states like Kansas from expanding Medicaid.

“The strongest argument that was being made is that the Affordable Care Act was going away on the first day of the Trump presidency and now the Republicans in Congress have acknowledged that for the foreseeable future, it will be the law,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat.

Asked for a comment about what the governor plans to do with the legislation, Brownback’s spokeswoman Melika Willoughby referred to a statement released by his office Monday.

“To expand Obamacare when the program is in a death spiral is not responsible policy,” Willoughby said in the statement.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

How they voted

Here’s how senators from Johnson and Wyandotte counties voted on House Bill 2044 to expand Medicaid:

Yes votes in the Senate:

Republicans: Barbara Bollier, John Skubal, Dinah Sykes

Democrats: David Haley, Pat Pettey

No votes in the Senate:

Republicans: Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Steve Fitzgerald, Julia Lynn, Robert Olson, Mary Pilcher-Cook

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