Editorials

Kansas Senate is only thing standing between 150,000 Kansans and access to Medicaid

Nearly a year later, Kansas man still waiting on Medicaid

Nyoka Isabell is trying to get her dad, Herbert Shaffer, 88, approved for Kansas Medicaid. His application has been pending for almost a year.
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Nyoka Isabell is trying to get her dad, Herbert Shaffer, 88, approved for Kansas Medicaid. His application has been pending for almost a year.

More than 150,000 Kansans who need access to affordable quality health care are closer than ever to seeing that become a reality.

On Thursday, after some dubious legislative legerdemain, the Kansas House approved a bill expanding Medicaid coverage in the state. That’s enormously good news for patients who need help with their insurance, rural hospitals and clinics that are struggling to keep their doors open, and every Kansan who believes their neighbors deserve help when they need it.

The vote was 69-54.

“Medicaid expansion to me is not just an ideological thing,” said state Rep. Tom Cox of Shawnee, a Republican. “It’s about real people’s lives.”

The future health of those “real people” now rests in the hands of the Kansas Senate and Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican.

Wagle is an opponent of Medicaid expansion. Surely, though, the vote in the Kansas House is enough to convince her and other senators that expansion should at least get a vote in their chamber.

If enough senators oppose the House measure, Wagle’s view will prevail.

But if enough senators approve the House bill, Gov. Laura Kelly will almost certainly sign it, and the will of Kansans will be clear and a matter of law.

“Over 70 percent of Kansans support Medicaid expansion,” Kelly said in a statement Thursday. “I encourage the Kansas Senate to join me, this bipartisan coalition, business leaders and the overwhelming majority of Kansans in support of Medicaid expansion.”

Kansans should congratulate the bipartisan coalition in the House that reached a surprising agreement on Medicaid expansion.

It must be noted, though, that to pass the Medicaid proposal, lawmakers used the controversial “gut-and-go” procedure, a tactic that involves stripping a bill and then inserting an unrelated measure. The Legislature should stop using gut-and-go. Had the Kansas House leadership allowed Medicaid expansion to come to the floor normally, gut-and-go would not have been necessary.

True legislative reform does not mean unilateral political disarmament. Transparency and openness mean full debate on both sides of the aisle, a fact Democrats and Republicans should remember this session.

That’s why Wagle should let the House bill come to the Senate floor. Expansion supporters should not be forced to look for a secret way to submit the bill for debate and a vote.

There are critics of the House Medicaid expansion bill. They’re worried about the cost to the state — an estimated $47 million annually. The federal government would pay about 90 percent of the cost in Kansas, but opponents argue that the federal money might go away, and that the expansion bill lacks an aggressive work requirement.

Those concerns are overblown. But the Kansas Medicaid program can be tweaked in future years if necessary. For now, the most important goal is extending coverage to those who need it.

Kansas continues its slow, steady recovery from the poor decisions of the past decade. The House vote and a Senate debate will continue that progress.

“The time for blocking progress has long since passed,” Gov. Kelly said Thursday. “Now is the time to expand Medicaid.”

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