Kansas health care advocates keep up pressure for Medicaid expansion with rally at Statehouse

photo by: Peter Hancock

Sheldon Weisgrau, of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, leads a rally at the Statehouse on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 calling for passage of a bill to expand the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

? While Kansas lawmakers grappled Tuesday with an impending state Supreme Court deadline to address funding shortfalls for public schools, an estimated 200 people rallied in the Statehouse to push for an issue that has received little attention so far in the 2018 session: expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

“More than 70 percent of Kansans support this issue, and we need to remind our legislators again that we are not going away,” Sheldon Weisgrau, a leader of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, told the crowd.

He was referring to a statewide poll conducted in April 2017 that actually showed about 68 percent of those surveyed support expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Other studies have suggested that such a law would extend health care coverage to about 150,000 people in the state.

Last year, Kansas lawmakers passed a bill that would have expanded KanCare to cover individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or just less than $29,000 a year for a family of three.

Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, most people below that income level who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid are not eligible to receive subsidies to buy private insurance through online exchange markets.

Then-Gov. Sam Brownback, however, vetoed that bill, and an effort in the House to override that veto fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority that was needed.

This year, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held hearings on another KanCare expansion plan, Senate Bill 38, and advanced that bill to the full Senate.

But it has remained on the Senate calendar and has not been brought up for debate or a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said early in the session that he believed it would be irresponsible for lawmakers to pass a Medicaid expansion bill before a school finance bill had been passed and approved by the Kansas Supreme Court.