More than 140,000 Kansans are tantalizingly close to qualifying for Medicaid, the federal-state program providing health insurance coverage for poor and low-income Americans.
Now, all that stands between those Kansans and health care is Gov. Sam Brownback.
On Tuesday, the Kansas Senate joined the House and voted to expand Medicaid. Expanding the program helps patients, rural hospitals and clinics, and it makes Kansas healthier.
Despite these facts, the governor continues to signal that he’ll veto the legislation. It’s unlikely state legislators can override that veto, so Brownback’s decision is enormously consequential.
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He should sign the bill.
If he does, Kansas would join 31 states and the District of Columbia in taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion embedded in the Affordable Care Act.
Lawmakers in those states know the federal government will eventually pay 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion, compared with the 60 percent federal match for traditional Medicaid.
The Kansas bill locks that percentage in: If the federal match dips below 90 percent, the Kansas expansion would end.
Medicaid expansion would have practical economic benefits in the state. Struggling rural hospitals may be able to stay open and provide more services to the public.
Expanding Medicaid is likely to create more health care jobs in Kansas. It might encourage medical students to consider practices in the state’s sparsely populated counties, meeting an important need.
But there’s a human value to expanding Medicaid that goes beyond dollars and cents. The expansion would cover Kansans left in the Obamacare “doughnut hole” — those earning too much for traditional Medicaid, yet not enough to qualify for credits to buy private insurance.
Those patients either end up in emergency rooms, where taxpayers pick up the cost, or they don’t get care at all. They’re poorer and sicker than their neighbors.
They need our help.
Medicaid expansion need not be a partisan issue. Some of the states that have expanded Medicaid have or had Republican governors, including former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — now the vice president.
Many Republicans fought to keep the Medicaid expansion intact because they know it helps cover the uninsured in their states.
Sadly, Brownback doesn’t appear to be swayed by any of this. His veto would be inexplicable and tragic.
A veto also would suggest he continues to misread his own state. Kansans like small government and low taxes, but they also know the state plays a critical role in providing important services: education, transportation, and yes — health care.
Kansans have shown they’re willing to pay for those things.
They are generous and sympathetic folks. And their representatives have sent a clear message that the state should help care for residents who are struggling to make ends meet.
Vetoing the bill would not only be bad policy. It also would strike most Kansans as unnecessarily mean, unbecoming of the state in which they live.
Please, governor. Sign the bill.