Opinion

Republican leaders must stop making excuses for failing to expand Medicaid in Kansas

April 13, 2021 3:33 am

Women make their voices heard at the 2018 Women for Kansas statewide conference. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Susan Osborne is a member of the state leadership team of Women for Kansas and president of the Women for Kansas Education Foundation.  

I am incredibly saddened to see so many Republicans in the Kansas legislature overtly continuing their opposition to Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

While 38 other states have expanded Medicaid, our legislative leaders have always had an excuse for not extending health care coverage to as many as 165,000 low-income Kansans. First, they said the Affordable Care Act would soon be overturned. Then, as more and more states signed on, they complained that residents of neighboring states would cross over borders and use our health care services, costing Kansas money. Of course, all our neighboring states — Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri, Arkansas — have now expanded, and Kansas stands alone.

Over the past several years, these Republicans — Senate President Ty Masterson of Andover, Sen. Gene Suellentrop of Wichita (who served as majority leader until Friday), Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman of Olathe, Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn of McPherson, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins of Wichita, and former Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita — have refused to bring up the subject for discussion, even though almost 64% of Kansans support expansion.

When former Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park worked with Gov. Laura Kelly to develop a plan to expand Medicare, he was criticized by other Republican leaders and did not run for reelection.

Five rural hospitals have already closed since Medicaid expansion was an option. A few years ago, 31 rural Kansas hospitals were at risk of closing. In 2021, that number has more than doubled to 76, according to Becker’s Hospital CFO Report. Another report, from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, indicates that 47 rural Kansas hospitals are at immediate risk for closure. That number is more than any other state in the country.

With so many rural Kansas hospitals in danger of closing, what do Republican leaders offer? Telemedicine! Expansion would help keep these hospitals open.

Republican leaders always talk about the cost of expansion, ignoring the fact that none of the 38 states that expanded have discontinued their program — their hospitals are less likely to close, lives have been saved, economic development has increased, millions of families are more financially secure, and they have connection to health care and new job opportunities.

And back to the concern about the cost. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and now Kansas has been offered up to $420 million as an incentive to expand. This is not even good enough for Republican leaders! Why are they so hostile to lower-income working Kansans having access to affordable health care, especially during this time of crisis?

Why, when some Republican legislators are privately open to expansion? Why, when so many conservative organizations like chambers of commerce, the Kansas Catholic Conference, Kansas Catholic Bishops and numerous churches and businesses support expansion?

Kansas has already lost almost $5 billion to other states because of stubbornness and devotion to Republican party funders. To turn away from this incentive now is foolishness and an embarrassment to Kansas. We must be united in demanding that this year we expand Medicaid in Kansas.

With 2,800 members throughout Kansas, the 11 chapters of Women for Kansas — in Wichita, Topeka/Lawrence, North Central/Salina, Independence, Cowley County, Southeast Kansas, Manhattan, Newton, Barton County/Great Bend, Manhattan and Hutchinson — support and speak out for Medicaid Expansion.

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Susan Osborne
Susan Osborne

Susan Osborne is a member of the state leadership team of Women for Kansas. With chapters throughout the state, Women for Kansas is a non-partisan organization that supports moderation in political issues and cooperation between political parties. She is retired from teaching and administrative positions at Wichita State University, Friends University and Newman University.

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