Government & Politics

Kansas came within a signature of expanding Medicaid in 2017. This year, not so much

It could have extended coverage for roughly 150,000 people, but it would have come at a cost for a state where money is often a concern.

Medicaid expansion barely made enough progress this year to ruffle those in the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature who have long opposed such a move.

And because a late attempt to expand Medicaid failed last week, and because no similar move was made during a Senate budget debate Monday, the healthcare legislation’s chances of passing have essentially died for this year.

"I think everybody just realized fiscally it was just irresponsible to do it," said expansion opponent Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita.

Kansas gained national attention last year when lawmakers sent a Medicaid expansion bill to then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

Brownback vetoed the bill, and the House was unable to muster support for an override.

This year, with essentially the same legislature, expansion has failed to pass out of either the House or the Senate.

House Democrats tried to amend expansion into different pieces of legislation throughout the 2018 session, and tried again during a budget debate Friday. The latest attempt failed on a 56-66 vote.

Rep. Susan Concannon — a driving force behind last year's expansion effort — was one of those who voted no.

“I want to do it so bad,” said Concannon, R-Beloit. “But I want to do it right.”

It’s a failure of the Legislature to not pass the policy, said Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park.

"I think if we get a governor who supports the majority of the people of Kansas, we'll do it pretty quickly next session," Parker said. "But there will literally be people dead in the next year who don't need to be."

Gov. Jeff Colyer’s administration testified against an expansion bill earlier this year. The administration estimated the legislation expanding Medicaid would have cost the state's general fund $22 million over two years.

Opponents said the Legislature’s decision to boost K-12 funding by $500 million over five years played a key role in the lack of debate on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers passed the funding increase in an effort to satisfy the state Supreme Court in ongoing school finance litigation.

"I think they're concerned about money and our first priority is trying to answer the (school finance) lawsuit," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, has strongly advocated for expansion. He called the legislation’s failure this session “obviously disappointing" but vowed to continue pushing for expansion.

"As long as this available for us, the state is shooting itself in the foot by not taking advantage of it," he said.