Kansas Governor Ensures His State Won’t Expand Medicaid Anytime Soon

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

Bert Skellie, of Decatur, Georgia., protests for Medicaid expansion

Thanks to a new bill approved by Gov. Sam Brownback (R), Kansas definitely won’t be expanding its Medicaid program this year.

On Friday, Brownback signed House Bill 2552, which removes his authority to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and requires the legislature to approve the policy. Since lawmakers have already concluded their session for the year, that means the state won’t be able to move on Medicaid expansion in 2014. And even if a Democratic governor is elected in the fall, the Republicans in the legislature could continue to block expansion.

Agreeing to expand Medicaid, which is one of the central tenets of the Affordable Care Act, would extend health coverage to about 78,000 low-income Kansas residents. The federal government would pick up the full cost of the expansion for the first year, and up to 90 percent of the costs after that. Nonetheless, anti-Obamacare lawmakers have dug in their heels against it.

“It doesn’t take a position on whether or not Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act should take place in Kansas. But what it does say is it should be up to the people’s elected representatives to make that decision,” Rep. John Rubin (R), one of the primary supporters of the legislation, told the Wichita Eagle.

But proponents of the Medicaid expansion argue that Brownback is essentially abdicating his responsibility. Other GOP governors have also supported shifting the power to expand the public health program onto the legislature. That could be a political maneuver to avoid taking a firm position on the policy. Now that Obamacare is fully in effect, and millions of people are gaining coverage under the law, Republican lawmakers have been more hesitant to publicly acknowledge their opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Advocates for Medicaid expansion aren’t giving up. The Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which has been pushing for the policy, plans to continue working with lawmakers to explain the benefits of accepting the optional expansion.

Kansas isn’t alone. Over 20 GOP-led states have refused to expand Medicaid, leaving about six million of the poorest Americans without any access to affordable health care whatsoever. The people who live in those states are already disproportionately poorer and sicker than the people living in the states that are accepting the expansion. The ongoing resistance to this Obamacare provision threatens to widen those regional disparities even further.