Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer spent his first full day in office making the media rounds, talking about his plans for the state.
Colyer deserves the best wishes of Kansans as he settles into his new role. “I will set a tone and insist on an environment of openness, honesty and respect,” he said Wednesday.
Yet Kansans know words are less important than deeds. In the coming days, they’ll be looking to Colyer for evidence of a willingness to compromise on issues that will move the state forward.
Here’s a good place to start: Expand Medicaid coverage in Kansas.
The new governor is a physician who has worked extensively on health care issues in Kansas, including Medicaid. In the past, he has opposed expanding the federal-state program that provides coverage for lower-income Kansans.
But Colyer is the governor now and is responsible for all the people of the state. He should listen to the voices insisting on expanding health coverage for those who lack it.
Expanding Medicaid would provide coverage for an estimated 80,000 Kansans a year (some figures are even higher). Many remain in the so-called “coverage gap.” They make too much for traditional Medicaid, yet not enough to qualify for insurance subsidies under Obamacare.
Expanding Medicaid would also provide additional resources in rural areas, for hospitals, clinics and doctors.
Kansas lawmakers know this. Last year, they voted to expand Medicaid and came close to overriding Brownback’s veto of the measure. The people want Medicaid expanded.
There are signs that Colyer could change his mind. In January, he and then-Gov. Sam Brownback announced plans to abandon for now KanCare 2.0 — a proposal that would have accelerated changes to the state’s privatized Medicaid system.
Colyer probably knows the truth: KanCare 1.0 remains a muddled mess. KanCare 2.0 would likely make it worse.
Still, the new governor may remain reluctant to sign Medicaid expansion. So here’s an alternative: He could promise that if the measure passes, he would let it become law without his signature.
Such an approach would allow Medicaid expansion, but still let the governor make his concerns known. More importantly, it would be a sign that Colyer understands and respects the legislative process.
And it would pave the way for the governor and the Legislature to address thornier problems, including school finance and taxes. Expanding Medicaid would be seen as a good-faith effort to clear away the underbrush from the Brownback years, and it could lead to more cooperation.
Colyer, who is running for re-election, likely fears a backlash from conservative Republicans if he lets Medicaid expansion happen. But conservative Republicans will always find something to complain about with Kris Kobach in the race.
Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, will embrace a Kobach alternative.
Colyer must show he can govern and that he can bring politicians who disagree together to address problems in the state. Promising to allow Medicaid expansion to become law, if legislators agree, would provide that evidence.
And it would be the right thing to do. Colyer should take the first step by allowing legislators to work their will on expanded Medicaid.