Guest Commentary

There are two public health threats in the Kansas Senate

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle blasts Democrats

The Wichita Republican joined with other GOP candidates for the Kansas Legislature to share a vision for the future of Kansas. (October 2016)
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The Wichita Republican joined with other GOP candidates for the Kansas Legislature to share a vision for the future of Kansas. (October 2016)

It has been widely reported that just two people are preventing 150,000 Kansans from accessing health insurance: Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning. While many are labeling them “obstructionists” or “partisans,” these terms fail to capture the truly pathological nature of their politics. We must be clear: Wagle and Denning are public health threats.

Consider research from Harvard University on Medicaid expansion, which estimates that one life is saved for as few as 239 people acquiring health insurance per year. Applying this statistic to Kansas, we find that up to 627 people may die needlessly each year because of Wagle and Denning’s stall tactics. At this rate, the state senators’ obstruction of Medicaid expansion would place them in the state’s top 10 causes of death — ranking above suicide, the flu and kidney disease. Furthermore, this figure is over four times higher than the number of people murdered in Kansas in 2016.

This is precisely what the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign calls “policy violence.” The brave demonstrators detained at the Kansas State Capitol last month could not have been more accurate: Wagle and Denning have “blood on their hands.” Irrefutably, they are causally implicated in each death that could have been prevented by expanding Medicaid under their tenure.

These are not radical claims. The Star recently informed us that the World Health Organization deems misinformation campaigns a “public health threat,” as in the case of the anti-vaxxer movement. Simply put, when people lie to you about your health, they are a threat to your health. Kansas voters should adopt this view with respect to Wagle and Denning. Take, for example, Wagle’s latest deceit-laden speech outlining why she is withholding health care from our friends, neighbors and families.

She opened by insinuating, as she has before, that expanding Medicaid will raise our insurance premiums. She herself knows this is demonstrably false. This is a deliberate attempt to deceive voters by conflating the individual insurance marketplace with Medicaid.

Wagle also attempted to delude us with the classic suggestion that the beneficiaries of expansion are unemployed. Yet we all know that most people in the nationwide “coverage gap” are working.

The senator said that Medicaid expansion is “bankrupting states across the nation.” Of course, zero states have been bankrupted by expansion. A leading academic study on the issue found that no state significantly miscalculated their cost of expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, the only time Wagle invoked “research,” she mischaracterized the studies she cites. Confusing correlation with causation, she gave the absurd impression that Medicaid increases one’s risk of illness, rather than the real cause: lower socioeconomic status.

We should take a moment to ponder why the Republican leadership’s arguments are built on flagrant lies. It is not by accident. It is a tactful political strategy to distract us from the consequences of this undemocratic charade. We cannot afford to let uninsured Kansans get sick and die while our leaders decide whose interests they represent.

Come 2020, Kansans will remember how we were harmed by Wagle and Denning, whom we hired to help us survive and thrive. We will fire them at the ballot box, and they will join the ranks of the “able-bodied unemployed” they so loathe.

Nick Bouzianis is a pre-medical student at Kansas State University. He co-authored this with Garrett Wilkinson, a U.S. Marshall Scholar studying public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.