House GOP kills off another Medicaid expansion attempt by Democrats

Chamber adopts ‘our-fiscal-policy-stinks’ motion for 2% budget cut

Overland Park Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, at center in glasses, plans to resign from the Kansas House to serve as executive director of Prairie Roots, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive candidates and issues. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Overland Park Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, at center in glasses, plans to resign from the Kansas House to serve as executive director of Prairie Roots, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive candidates and issues. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Republican majority in the Kansas House stiff-armed Tuesday the latest in a long series of attempts by Democrats to expand eligibility for Medicaid to at least 120,000 lower-income Kansans.

The minority party attempted to amend expansion into a state budget bill because GOP leadership in the House had successfully blocked bills in committee that would commit the state to a bigger Medicaid program under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The amendment offered by Overland Park Rep. Brett Parker was rejected 46-78, after Republicans tried to avoid the public vote through a procedural maneuver.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has made Medicaid expansion a top policy priority. She also proposed the state’s share of expansion costs could be covered by revenue from passage of a medicinal marijuana law.

Thirty-eight states have implemented Medicaid expansion or passed expansion measures, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska. At this point, the federal government would cover 90% of a state’s cost of increasing coverage under Medicaid. In addition, the federal stimulus law would deliver to Kansas approximately $450 million in additional funding over the next two years if it went ahead with Medicaid reform.

Wichita Democratic Rep. Henry Helgerson, standing in bow tie, gained House approval of an amendment making a 2% or $161 million across the board reduction in the state budget to highlight the lack of fiscal discipline exhibited by state government. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Wichita Democratic Rep. Henry Helgerson, left, chatting with Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal,  gained House approval of an amendment making a 2% or $161 million across-the-board reduction in the state budget. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Proponents of expansion said the amendment would draw to Kansas a projected $460 million annually in federal funding to serve 120,000 to 160,000 people at clinics and hospitals statewide. By stopping adoption of Medicaid growth, Kansas lawmakers have turned away $4.6 billion in federal aid for preventative health care.

“I’ve been here for five years now,” said Parker, the Overland Park Democrat. “I don’t think we’ve worked an expansion bill in the health committee in those five years. Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do. It’s been available for too long. We’ve not taken action for too long.”

Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, urged her colleagues to oppose the amendment because Medicaid would be available to pay for abortions. However, the state Medicaid director said federal funding could be relied upon for abortions under expanded Medicaid only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

After the dust settled on Medicaid, Rep. Troy Waymaster, the House budget committee chairman, continued to battle through debate on the budget blueprint. A reduction of about $20 in the state fee for a concealed firearm license was adopted by House members. An amendment lifting a moratorium on filling more beds at the Osawatomie state hospital was defeated.

Then, Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, proposed an amendment slashing the state general fund budget by 2%, or $161 million, across the board except for debt service. His cut would take no prisoners — it would even hammer the K-12 education budget. Shockingly, it passed on a voice vote.

He said the state of Kansas was prepared to spend $650 million more annually than it took in through tax revenue, producing a $35 million shortfall by the end of June. It is unconstitutional for the state to operate with a deficit.

“I really haven’t heard anybody talking about doing anything,” said Helgerson, who referred to himself a “flaming” fiscal conservative while pointing to Republican and Democratic incompetence that wasted millions of dollars in state tax dollars. “Our fiscal policy stinks. We spend money like drunken sailors, except that it does a disservice to sailors. Financially, we’re out of whack.”

Helgerson’s subsequent motion to send the House budget bill back to the House Appropriations Committee to deal with the spending rollback was soundly rejected. In the end, the massive reduction in state spending will likely be removed in negotiations with the Senate.

Before adjourning for the evening, the House approved the budget bill — House Bill 2397 — on a vote of 71-52.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.