By Danny Novo

Imagine if Medicaid expansion had become law in Kansas the first time it passed.

In 2014, fearful for his chances of re-election, Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that prevented any future governor from expanding Medicaid without the Legislature’s approval. Despite that, in 2017, both chambers of the Kansas Legislature voted to pass expansion, the Kansas Senate by a margin of 25-14, the House by 81-44. Brownback vetoed the bill, and it failed to get the handful of votes it needed to overcome the veto.

But imagine what might have happened. Expansion, once passed, can take as little as a year to implement, though that schedule is dependent on swift approval at the Federal level. But even if it had taken two years, or even three, more than 130,000 Kansas without health insurance would have started 2020 with access to health care. The effect of the pandemic is still being tallied, but it is safe to say that many more Kansans are now insecure in their access to health care.

The Kansas Legislature had the opportunity in the years after 2017 to again pass Medicaid expansion, especially once Gov. Laura Kelly took office. The votes were there. But conservative, extremist leadership would not bring the measure up for a vote. Senate President Susan Wagle stalled and refused. House Leader Ron Ryckman delayed and deflected. Even this past year, when Sen. Jim Denning defected and worked with Gov. Kelly to come up with an expansion bill, leadership still balked.

Poll after poll has shown that Kansans favor Medicaid expansion. There is support in the Kansas Legislature. Any action lawmakers had taken over the last few years would have kept Kansans in better health and out of the emergency room. And yet, for political reasons, leadership has prevented it.

The Mainstream Coalition is proud to be a member of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, and proud of the work we have done to protect Kansans and get them engaged in politics. Learn more about Mainstream at MainstreamCoalition.org.

Danny Novo is communications director at the Mainstream Coalition