Kansas Republicans invent new excuse to block health care for 150,000 people

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Health care coverage is on hold as Republican legislators fight over an unrelated constitutional amendment to repeal abortion rights.

The Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature is again refusing to pass a bipartisan agreement to finally expand the state's Medicaid program and cover 150,000 people. Their latest excuse: They want to restrict abortion first.

The Kansas City Star reported on Tuesday that the GOP-run state Senate is blocking action until the GOP-run state House approves a controversial constitutional amendment to repeal abortion rights.

Senate Republicans are trying to get around a Kansas Supreme Court last year that struck struck down a ban on a common abortion procedure because the state's constitution protects the right to an abortion. Their amendment would explicitly state that there is no constitutional right to an abortion.

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The amendment passed the Senate, but fell a few votes short in the House earlier this month.

State Sen. Gene Suellentrop (R), Public Health and Welfare chair, told colleagues on Monday, "[W]e will not pass a Medicaid Expansion bill out of this committee until the House passes the Value Them Both Amendment.”

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R), a supporter of Medicaid expansion, lamented that it was "really locked down until we get that amendment passed."

The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, provides states with the vast majority of funding to cover millions of Americans through Medicaid. To date, 36 states and the District of Columbia have opted in.

Kansas is one of just 14 states that has not.

A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in Kansas have been trying for years to enact expansion, but have been stymied each time.

In 2017, a bipartisan expansion proposal finally passed through the GOP-controlled Legislature, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback (R) vetoed, citing its potential costs.

Democrat Laura Kelly was elected governor in 2018 on a pro-expansion platform, but her initial attempt to make it happen died in the conservative Senate last year.

In January, she and Denning struck a compromise to finally get expansion done. But earlier this month, Senate President Susan Wagle (R) vowed that it would not get a vote unless the House passes the anti-abortion measure first. "We will not take up Medicaid expansion until the amendment is on the ballot," she said.

While GOP lawmakers hold the bill hostage to pursue their anti-abortion agenda, the continued delay of Mediciad expansion is hurting Kansans.

Last July, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a study that found 15,600 deaths in states that did not expand Medicaid could have been prevented if their state had opted in.

In January, a study of southern states that expanded Medicaid found their low-income residents were less likely to see their health decline than those in southern states that refused to expand Medicaid.

Another study earlier this month found that more than 70% of the rural hospitals that shut down since Obamacare became law in 2010 were in states that did not expand Medicaid.

A 2017 poll of Kansans found 69% support for Medicaid expansion.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.