Kansas lawmakers punt Medicaid expansion to 2021 session

photo by: Conner Mitchell/Journal-World

Kansas legislative leaders debate an amendment to expand the state's Medicare program on Thursday, May 21, 2020 at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

TOPEKA — Amid a global health crisis, the Republican-dominated Kansas Senate on Thursday voted along party lines against expanding Medicaid, delaying the hopes that the state would extend health care coverage to tens of thousands of Kansans until at least the next legislative session.

Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, tried to expand the state’s Medicaid program by way of amending an unrelated bill — a controversial process known as “gut-and-go” — but it was quickly struck down by Republican leaders.

The amendment, Sykes said, was the compromise agreed on in January by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

“These are unprecedented times in our country and our state. Medicaid expansion would’ve helped save hundreds of thousands (of Kansans). I am disappointed in this body,” Sykes said. “It was bipartisan and it would’ve been a good-faith effort for the two-thirds of Kansans who care about health care.”

Denning, who was serving his final day in the Legislature after announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection, said he was “profoundly disappointed” not to get a vote on Medicaid — before casting a vote against hearing Sykes’ amendment.

“The decision was an easy one,” he said. “The underlying bill … is not germane to Medicaid.”

April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said in a statement that a previously bipartisan agreement on expansion was cut short by “political games” and the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Legislature to shorten its session. Holman’s group has been one of the leading advocates for expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

“A small group of House and Senate leaders have left tens of thousands of Kansans without access to affordable health care in the midst of a global pandemic,” Holman said. “Not only are we leaving them out in the cold, but expansion would have brought millions of federal dollars into the Kansas economy just as state revenues are plummeting.”

Kansas now remains one of 14 states yet to expand its Medicaid program as recommended by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The others are South Dakota, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The Journal-World has previously reported that expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Denning-Kelly plan would have improved LMH Health’s finances by between $3 million and $6 million, and it would have expanded health insurance coverage to about 10,000 Douglas County residents who don’t currently have it.

“It would be a significant improvement,” LMH Health CEO Russ Johnson told the newspaper in January.

As of the most recent data provided by the state Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday, Kansas has confirmed 8,539 cases of COVID-19 and 178 deaths from the virus. Of the confirmed cases, 62 are in Douglas County.


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