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Kansas House Lawmakers Fail to Override Medicaid Expansion Veto

Republican Susan Concannon speaking in the House chamber Monday. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

By Meg Wingerter and Stephen Koranda

Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that would expand Medicaid eligibility will stand after an override attempt failed Monday in the Kansas House. At least 84 votes were needed to override the veto and move the bill to the Senate, but it faltered in the House on a vote of 81-44.

The bill would have expanded Medicaid coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,640 annually for an individual. Estimates show about 300,000 Kansans would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion, though only about half that many were expected to sign up in the first year.

Last week Brownback said he vetoed the bill because it would prioritize healthy adults over those with disabilities. Some disability rights groups dispute that characterization.

Representative Clay Aurand, a Belleville Republican, said he supported a form of expansion but thought the existing bill wasn’t specific to Kansans’ needs and concerns. Aurand voted for the bill last week but switched his vote Monday.

In explaining his vote against the override, Aurand said he hopes House leadership will form a group to design a new plan.

“I want to tighten this up,” he said.

Supporters tried just about every argument they had used earlier in the session, including that expanding Medicaid coverage would assist struggling hospitals, draw down more federal dollars for Kansas and assist low-income people in accessing preventive care.

With the possibility of a veto override looming, lawmakers were inundated with emails and calls over the weekend, said Representative Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee who was among those opposed to expanding Medicaid eligibility.

After Monday’s vote, he said lawmakers were concerned about how expansion would affect the state’s budget, mentioning that states with expanded programs have seen higher-than-expected costs.

“Their budgets have ballooned,” he said. “Their budgets are just enormous on this. And with what we’re doing here in the state, and the budget constraints that we have, I think it’s truly irresponsible for us to expand today.”

But he echoed Aurand’s hope that legislators would continue to discuss other ways to increase access to health care for more Kansans.

“Now we can start looking at ‘What can we do?’ and not necessarily ‘What do we have to do?’ in the form of Medicaid expansion,” Hawkins said.

And even though he agreed with Monday’s outcome — “It may not be the vote that everybody wanted, but it’s certainly the right vote” — Hawkins wasn’t celebrating.

“In a situation like this, people expect me to have a smile on my face and to be happy,” he said. “It’s tough. … It was a hard-fought battle on both sides, and I don’t know that there’s any joy.”

Representative Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, thanked House members for voting to table the bill Thursday, allowing her to vote on it Monday. She argued it would primarily benefit working-class Kansans.

“This is not a welfare bill. This is a bill to provide health care to the working poor,” she said.

The House had been three votes short of overriding the veto when it voted to pass the expansion bill, and the Senate was two votes short.

Advocates scrambled over the weekend to sway lawmakers, and a town hall meeting in Olathe became tense as expansion supporters booed legislators who opposed it.

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