Gubernatorial candidates shouldn’t try to dump the state’s problems on Washington
Lawmakers in Kansas have been debating Medicaid expansion for years, but we remain one of the 19 states that have consistently refused to do so. While there has been plenty of disagreement about the effects expansion will have on hospitals and patients, the economic implications, etc., one concern has become the go-to excuse for Republican lawmakers who don’t want to take a strong stand one way or the other.
Instead of arguing that Medicaid expansion is good or bad for the state, they hide behind the perpetual uncertainty in Washington.
When the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee supported a bill that would have extended Medicaid coverage to 150,000 low-income Kansans, former Republican Sen. Jake LaTurner (who now serves as the state treasurer) used this well-worn excuse: “I think we’re being hasty to not wait and see what happens in Washington.” Committee Chairwoman Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, responded, “If you can predict what’s going to happen in Washington, that would be great. But in the meantime, we have to move ahead as a state.” Which of these positions sounds more like responsible leadership to you?
Less than a week after the Public Health and Welfare Committee advanced the Medicaid bill, the full Senate voted 25-14 to send it to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk. Brownback promptly vetoed the bill, arguing that it’s “unwise to undertake such a drastic change to our Medicaid system in Kansas while our partners in Washington, D.C., continue working to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.” He said congressional leaders and the White House had “restarted negotiations” and claimed that passing Medicaid expansion “while these changes are still being worked out is potentially harmful to our state.” The House fell three votes short of overriding the veto.
Brownback’s argument that health care policy was still “being worked out” in Washington was clearly disingenuous, considering the fact that he opposed Medicaid expansion long before the fate of the Affordable Care Act appeared to be in jeopardy. What’s more, we now know that the “restarted negotiations” Brownback was so concerned about went nowhere. But this hasn’t kept gubernatorial candidates from opportunistically citing the volatility in Washington as one of the reasons why they don’t support Medicaid expansion.
For example, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer both mentioned the status of the ACA as they outlined their opposition to expansion. Colyer urged Congress to repeal and replace the bill (which could entail the elimination of federal funding for expansion) and demanded “state flexibility rather than a straitjacket.” He also asserted that Kansans are opposed to the ACA, conveniently ignoring the fact that polling has consistently revealed widespread support for Medicaid expansion in the state. Meanwhile, Selzer said the repeal of the ACA would make “Medicaid expansion at the state level a moot question.”
While Kansas vacillates on Medicaid expansion, our rural hospitals continue to suffer and federal funding continues to be funneled into the states that are wise enough to accept it. To quote Schmidt, if Colyer, Selzer and other Republicans opposed to Medicaid expansion can predict what’s going to happen in Washington, great.
If not, they better stop pretending like major decisions about Kansans’ health care can be delegated to someone else.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.