Editorial: Brownback’s Medicaid veto demands an override

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s stated reasons for vetoing Medicaid expansion are simply not serious.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s stated reasons for vetoing Medicaid expansion are simply not serious. The Star

All that stood between 150,000 Kansans and health insurance was Gov. Sam Brownback, but he did not let that give him pause.

He did not defer to the 82 percent of Kansans who now support Medicaid expansion.

Nor did he give any fact-based reasons for quickly vetoing a bill that would save lives, save money and save rural hospitals in his state, which has lost out on $1.8 billion in federal aid since 2014 by refusing the help.

Rep. Susan Concannon, the Republican who introduced a veto override in the House shortly after the governor’s veto Thursday, said supporters of expansion are just one vote short of the 84 votes they need to override.

Over the weekend, lawmakers from rural areas might want to listen to those they serve about the importance of supporting the local hospitals that are major employers in many communities. In 2015, a hospital in Independence, Kan., had to close in part because Kansas said “no thanks” to Medicaid expansion. And voters in those areas must make clear to their representatives that a vote against overriding the veto is a vote against their own constituents.

The leading argument against the expansion is that Kansas can’t afford it. The Affordable Care Act allows states to offer Medicaid — health care coverage for low-income and disabled Americans — to those who make too much to qualify but not enough to buy health insurance on the government exchanges.

“The cost of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare is irresponsible and unsustainable,” Brownback said in a statement explaining his decision.

But Kansas can’t afford not to expand Medicaid — first, in human terms, but also because of the savings that would come from pharmaceutical rebates, from providing Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and from moving inmates to coverage that would bring in more federal dollars. The Medicaid expansion would also create health care jobs and improve productivity. If Kansas does not expand Medicaid, fewer doctors will accept it, further eroding access.

Brownback’s stated reasons for denying so many Kansans access to health care are simply not serious. But it is nevertheless important to consider them point-by-point.

First, he said that expanding Medicaid would lead to longer waiting lists for disabled Kansans. This is not the case; disabled Kansans would not be put in line behind the “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients he keeps talking about. The disabled community has asked Brownback to leave them out of his talking points, to no avail.

He also said the bill ought to include work requirements. The federal agency that administers Medicaid has not accepted such requirements, but there is already language about work and job referrals in the bill anyway.

Finally, he vetoed it “because it sends taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry,” he said in a letter to the editor. Must all roads lead to Planned Parenthood? The bill has nothing to do with abortion, and the only increase in funding is for reimbursements for cancer screenings, checkups and so forth.

This expansion is vitally important, and we hope lawmakers will stand up for the Kansans their governor remains so determined to deprive of insurance.