Topeka When the Rev. Joshua Longbottom, an associate pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, asked a rally crowd Friday what would Jesus do, the answer from several rally-goers was “Expand Medicaid.”
Hours after the event brought about 75 people to the Statehouse, Gov. Sam Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor was studying the issue but had concerns about the costs.
“We continue to discuss options and alternatives with like-minded states and with our legislative partners in Kansas,” Jones-Sontag said.
Medicaid is a state and federally funded program that currently serves nearly 400,000 Kansans, mostly children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the state has the option to extend Medicaid coverage to include all children and adults under the age of 65 who live at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that is an annual income of $30,657 or less.
Extending the Medicaid program could provide assistance to as many as 130,000 more Kansans, according to the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition.
Under the ACA, the federal government would pick up all the cost of expanding the program for the first three years and most of the cost after that. But Brownback, other Republicans and some Democrats have said they feared expanding Medicaid and then having the federal government renege on its commitment because of budget problems.
In addition, Jones-Sontag said, “We must be mindful of the impact of the cost an expansion would have on other state core responsibilities like K-12 education and prisons.”
The rally came one day after Brownback nixed a state-federal partnership to build an insurance exchange designed as a marketplace where consumers can review and compare health insurance plans. Now the federal government will run the exchange in Kansas.
People at the rally expected that Brownback, an ardent opponent of the ACA signed into law by President Barack Obama, would say no to expanding Medicaid.
Tina Tribble, of Overland Park, was one of four people holding a sign that said “Brownback = Bankrupt.”
She said the massive tax cuts signed into law by Brownback would prevent the state from adequately funding schools and health care.
“Once we are one big failed experiment, maybe someone from the East Coast will save us,” Tribble said.
The state is decreasing its individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent. Also, the state will exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes. Brownback has said the tax cuts will boost the economy and create jobs, but a new estimate shows the state will see a reduction of more than $700 million in revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1, leading to a projected shortfall of $327 million.
There are nearly 380,000 Kansans without health insurance and for many “there simply isn’t an affordable option available to them,” said Anna Lambertson, with the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition.
Jennifer Weishaar of Lawrence said she has a pre-existing health condition that made it impossible to get private insurance.
Now she has coverage through a temporary plan under ACA, which will serve as a bridge until 2014 when insurance companies can no longer limit or deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition. “We want Obamacare in Kansas,” she said.
Will Dale, a junior at Kansas University, said health care was an essential right that should be “available to everyone.”
Kari Rinker, representing the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Thomas Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, who are both veterans of legislative battles, told the crowd that getting Kansas officials to expand Medicaid would be a long, tough fight that will require people staying involved and lobbying their legislators. “Keep pressing,” said Rinker. “We will get this done.”