A losing strategy: Kansas GOP sees continued delay of Medicaid expansion as a win

When Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning kept Kansas from expanding Medicaid for yet another year — and yes, he deserves credit for keeping some 150,000 Kansans uninsured even now — he insisted that it would just have to wait because there was so much heavy legislative lifting yet to be done.

“I’m not saying no,” he said, all innocence on the May day he blocked debate. “I’m saying this policy isn’t ready.”

These things can’t be rushed, the Overland Park Republican said then, a full five years into the effort to close the coverage gap for those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The Kansas GOP’s refusal to expand Medicaid has meant losing out on the $3 billion in federal funds that could have been helping the state’s people and rural hospitals all this time. The insurance plans that Kansas lawmakers did legalize this year are unregulated and may not cover people with preexisting conditions.

In May, Denning argued that expanding Medicaid the right way would require serious and careful study by a select Senate committee. For two whole days, as it turns out.

Again, that’s after the years that this issue has already been on the table, and before a joint House-Senate committee takes it up. If careful Senate study were really the reason for waiting, two days of pondering wouldn’t make the delay seem any more like a reason than an excuse.

But in the Kansas Legislature, where it’s never too late to start over, the leadership just agreed to move forward with the Senate select committee to explore options for expanding Medicaid.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said forming an interim committee in one chamber had never been done before, would be duplicative as well as a waste of money. “And I don’t think you can deliberate a lot in two days. If the Republicans don’t have a plan already devised, we won’t accomplish a lot.”

No doubt they do have a plan in their pocket — one intended to expand Medicaid as narrowly and belatedly as possibly. At a public forum in Hutchinson last month, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle told a woman who challenged her opposition to Medicaid expansion, “You’re asking us to expand a program that hasn’t worked. We’re talking about able-bodied people who can work.”

Many do work but still don’t make enough to afford insurance. Others can’t do so, even if the only obstacles to remunerative employment generally acknowledged by Kansas Republicans are sloth and more sloth.

Senate leaders have said the select Senate committee is especially necessary because its still-new health committee chair, Sen. Gene Suellentrop, needs time to get up to speed. Apparently, the 15 days in the last session when the committee could have met but did not were unsuitable for some reason.

In a May interview, Denning told The Star editorial board that expansion had to wait for several reasons, including that it would save Kansas money if the bill passed next year rather than this year: “If we can save a little bit of money and stretch this out, we should.”

When the goal is to deny coverage, every day of delay is a victory.