One vote margin in Kansas Senate keeps Medicaid expansion bill from reaching debate floor

TOPEKA, Kan. -- There is a battle taking place at the Kansas Capitol that has to do with the healthcare of 150,000 Kansans. By one vote Wednesday, rank and file senators in Topeka failed to force a Medicaid Expansion Bill to the floor for debate.

Governor Laura Kelly and Senate Democrats blame Senate leadership for preventing a vote on the bill.

“The Medicaid expansion has been a priority for us as a local government for several years now,” said Mike Taylor with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

Ten-percent of those covered in the proposed Medicaid expansion bill live in Wyandotte County. That is 15,000 people who now go the emergency room if they get sick because that's their only choice.

“It is in the neighborhood of about $30 million a year that KU Hospital has to basically write off,” Taylor said.

Medicaid now covers low-income children under the age of 6 and frail, elderly and disabled adults. The expansion would cover adults earning up to $12,000 a year and families surviving on $27,000 a year.

Senator Barbara Bollier looks at healthcare as a moral issue. She is the only medical doctor in the legislature and a supporter of the Medicaid expansion bill.

“What your goal is, is to have healthy people. So by having primary care and preventive care you are much less likely to need an emergency room or any other kind of visit,” Bollier said. “Senator Jim Denning has made it abundantly clear that he will not debating it on the floor.”

"I voted pass because I wanted to let the body know and the media know and my constituents know that I wasn't saying no to Medicaid expansion,” Denning replied. “I was just saying that the timing wasn't right."

It is a bill that has been floating around the Capitol for five years. The time seemed right for the legislature two years ago, when the same Medicaid expansion bill was passed by the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by Governor Sam Brownback.

“I can`t think for any reasons other than political and ideological reasons. We could afford it because I budgeted it," said current Governor Laura Kelly.

The federal government would cover 90-percent of the Medicaid expansion. Kelly says legislators have left $3.5 billion of federal money on the table over the past five years. That money going to other states.

“The bill that she is looking at hasn't really been enhanced or looked at for many years, it has a half-inch of dust on it. There is no win here. Doing good policy takes time," Denning said.

“There`s no point in waiting any longer,” Kelly said. “It was just a recent study that said for every yearly delay that it would literally cost over 600 people their lives because they don`t have access to healthcare. This is this is a life-and-death situation; we need to move on it we need to move on it now. While the Senate leadership might feel like it`s easy to wait. For the 620 people or so, not so much for them.”

While taking different approaches, both sides are confident Medicaid expansion will happen, but what it will look like is still an unknown.

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