GOP lawmakers block health care for 130,000 people in Kansas

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Despite the pandemic and high unemployment, Republicans in Kansas ended this year's legislative session by blocking Medicaid expansion.

On Thursday, Kansas Republicans blocked a final effort by Democratic lawmakers to expand Medicaid during the 2020 state legislative session, the Wichita Eagle reported.

The failure to pass the expansion leaves 130,000 residents who would have been eligible for it without access to the health care program.

Democratic state Sen. Dinah Sykes attempted to force a vote on the Medicaid expansion, but Republicans used a procedural tactic to stop it. Both chambers of Kansas' legislature have adjourned until early in 2021.

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Throughout the session, Republican lawmakers tied the expansion of Medicaid to an anti-abortion constitutional amendment, refusing to pass one without the other. The "Value Them Both" amendment was designed, in the words of the Kansas House resolution, "to amend the bill of rights of the constitution of the state of Kansas by adding a new section thereto stating that there is no constitutional right to abortion, and reserving to the people the ability to regulate abortion through the elected members of the legislature of the state of Kansas."

State Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Republican from Wichita, defended the decision to link health care to anti-abortion legislation, complaining, "In the last number of weeks, our constituents have not been able to go to church and our abortion clinics remain open." He added, "It rings pretty hollow (to be) expressing concern about your constituents when you support that kind of activity."

The Republican vote to deny health insurance to low-income residents came despite the fact that more than 260,000 Kansas residents, almost 10% of the state's population, have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two months.

At the beginning of this year, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning touted a deal with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to expand Medicaid, saying the compromise was a "really good, complete plan for Kansas." But Denning was unable to hold up his side of the deal, failing to move the legislation through the state Senate.

"Not even a global public health emergency can convince extremist Republicans to put their partisan agenda aside and finally give their constituents access to affordable health care," Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

As of Friday morning, Kansas has nearly 9,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, and at least 199 people in the state have died as a result of the virus.

On Wednesday, the Brookings Institution reported that states with more Republican-leaning counties, including Kansas, have experienced high rates of coronavirus infection in the past month, defined by having at least 100 cases per 100,000 people.

According to an analysis by USA Today, Kansas has averaged 179 new cases every day for the past week, and has among the lowest rates of coronavirus testing in the nation.

Kansas is one of 15 traditionally Republican states that has refused to expand Medicaid since 2010, when President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which allows states to expand the program. Decisions by Republican lawmakers not to accept the expansion has denied affordable health care to more than 2 million people nationwide, according to a January analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.