Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning has offered an important plan to expand Medicaid coverage in the state. A Senate committee endorsed it last week.
Conservative Republicans don’t like it. “The fact we’re trying to expand it as Republicans is unfortunate,” said state Sen. Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who says expanding Medicaid is her top priority, is also a skeptic. “We need a Medicaid expansion plan that is simple, effective and sustainable for Kansas,” she said in a statement.
Conservatives want tougher abortion language. Liberals want more specifics.
When a proposal is attacked from the right and the left, it’s often a good sign that you’re on the right track. Denning, a Republican, is.
We’ve argued for Medicaid expansion in Kansas for years. There are several economic reasons for extending health insurance coverage to people with low incomes — it can help save rural hospitals, it brings federal money to the state, it creates jobs.
But the most important reason is fundamental and moral. No one should go bankrupt or end up in jail because of illness.
This is not an idle concern. Recently, ProPublica published a devastating story about medical debt collection in southeast Kansas. There, men and women with crushing medical debt often end up in jail.
Expanding Medicaid wouldn’t solve every health care problem in Kansas, or the nation. But it would provide at least some protection for roughly 150,000 of our most vulnerable neighbors. That’s why 36 states have expanded Medicaid.
Powerful Republicans lawmakers in Kansas have prevented progress on this issue. Some think health care is a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
That’s why it’s so encouraging that Denning has offered a serious starting place for negotiations.
The Denning plan would require tax increases on cigarettes and vaping liquid. It adds surcharges and fees for hospitals and managed care providers. Those changes provide more than $120 million annually, which is the state’s estimated cost for expanding Medicaid.
Denning wants a dedicated revenue source for expanded Medicaid. While we might do it differently, the idea of providing new funds for the program is a good one. Expanding Medicaid while cutting the sales tax on food — another must-do item for lawmakers — would put a serious dent in the state’s budget.
Kansans should encourage Denning and his colleagues to continue their work. Kansas must expand Medicaid in 2020. The new proposal offers the first step on that path.