Gov. Sam Brownback’s missive on Medicaid expansion was wrong, cruel and divisive

Kansas’ refusal to expand Medicaid is one reason Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kan., has cited for shutting its doors.
Kansas’ refusal to expand Medicaid is one reason Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kan., has cited for shutting its doors.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office sent out one of its trademark propaganda pieces on Tuesday, this one on the subject of Medicaid expansion. In its effort to score political points, it maligns low-income Kansans and pits citizens with disabilities against the working poor.

As with other recent messages, the email signed by the governor’s deputy communications director, Melika Willoughby, is rife with inaccurate information. It was sent from the email address of Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to a list of Kansans initially compiled by Brownback’s re-election campaign.

The purpose appears to be to push back against renewed calls to expand income eligibility for Medicaid. Some Republican lawmakers indicated they were open to discussions after Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kan., announced it was closing this month, citing Kansas’ refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility as one of several factors.

The Kansas Hospital Association, health advocates and many others have urged Brownback and the state Legislature to expand Medicaid eligibility. They correctly argue it would bring health care security to about 150,000 low-income Kansas adults and bring in millions of federal dollars to boost the state’s economy and help rural hospitals.

But according to Willoughby’s email, those pleas are just “Democrats clamoring for an antidote to their self-inflicted wound.” The wound being “Obamacare,” of course.

Willoughby disingenuously wrote that Brownback’s primary objection to Medicaid expansion is “a moral one.”

“Medicaid expansion creates new entitlements for able-bodied adults without dependents, prioritizing those who choose not to work before intellectually, developmentally, and physically disabled, the frail and elderly, and those struggling with mental health issues,” she wrote. “This isn’t just bad policy, this is morally reprehensible.”

Willoughby either misunderstands or she is being deliberately deceptive.

Parents with low-paying jobs would benefit the most if Kansas raised Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is what the Affordable Care Act intended. Kansas law currently allows Medicaid coverage only for parents who earn less than 32 percent of the poverty level, about $7,630 a year for a family of four.

These aren’t people who “choose not to work,” as Willoughby callously supposes. Many of them work very hard at multiple jobs. Some of them take care of the disabled, frail and elderly Kansans whom Brownback is supposedly so concerned about. Their employers don’t offer affordable health benefits and they fall into a coverage gap created when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it optional for states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Brownback’s office is also wrong to insist that Medicaid expansion would enable “able-bodied adults” to take preference over developmentally and physically disabled Kansans who are on waiting lists for services.

Disabled citizens already are covered by the Kancare Medicaid program for their health needs. The waiting lists are for support services such as sheltered workshops, group home accommodations and respite care for family members. Brownback and the Legislature continue to place severe tax cuts ahead of properly funding the budget so those waiting lists can be eliminated.

Why Brownback and Colyer would authorize a staffer to send out a missive that deliberately insults thousands of hard-working Kansans and attempts to create a rift between them and citizens with disabilities is inexplicable. But this tactic is cruel and divisive and reflects poorly on Brownback and his administration.