Kansas lawmakers fail to override Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion

House Republicans watch the voting board on the Kansas House floor during an open vote on overriding Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of a Medicaid expansion bill, Monday, April 3, 2017 at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. The measure failed by three votes.

? The Kansas House on Monday sustained Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that would have extended Medicaid coverage to an additional 150,000 people.

A motion to override his veto fell three votes short, 81-44. That was the same margin by which the bill initially passed the House in February.

Two people who had previously opposed the bill switched their votes to yes: Republican Reps. Fred Patton, of Topeka, and Troy Waymaster, of Bunker Hill.

At the same time, though, two previous supporter of the bill, Republican Reps. Tory Marie Arnberger, of Great Bend, and Clay Aurand, of Belleville, switched their votes to no.

Patton was one of the moderate Republicans that supporters of the bill had been hoping would change his vote. Patton’s district is just north of two regional hospitals that are major employers in the area.

“I have serious concerns with provisions in this plan,” Patton said in a written explanation of his vote. “However, with one local hospital (St. Francis Hospital) for sale and both absorbing increasing financial pressures, I am also concerned with ensuring health care access for our families.”

Aurand said he voted in favor of the bill initially, even though he had concerns about it, because he assumed the Senate would change the bill and the concerns he had could be worked out in a conference committee. But the Senate did not change the bill, and when it passed the upper chamber last week, it went directly to Brownback.

“What I would love to do is put a solution in place that addresses a lot of concerns that some folks have in a fiscal neutral way, so I beseech leadership to commit to trying to put a group together, because I could go either way on this, quite frankly,” Aurand said. “I want to do whatever is most likely to get to something that is more amenable to a more broad range of folks in here.”

The bill would have taken advantage of the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and would have expanded eligibility for Medicaid in Kansas to anyone in a household making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $27,800 a year for a family of three.

Brownback is a critic of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

He argued in his veto message that expanding Medicaid would burden the state with what he called “unrestrainable” costs. Supporters said it would be a net plus for the state.

Brownback also argued that the bill “funnels more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry,” a charge that Rep. Sidney Carlin, D-Manhattan, strongly refuted.

“I was very concerned that some of us would back away from support and hide behind the governor’s comments regarding abortion and be afraid to support the override,” Carlin said. “So I contacted my bishop, that’s the bishop in Salina, and I received an email back from him this morning and I just wanted to share that with you, and I quote: ‘All four bishops of Kansas support the expansion.'”

Monday’s vote in the House very likely ends the debate over Medicaid expansion in Kansas for this year. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the regular session on Friday, then leave for a three-week break. They will return May 1 for a wrapup session that will focus mainly on passage of a final budget, a school finance plan and a tax package.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.