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Governor Vetoes Kansas Medicaid Expansion Bill, Setting Off Override Debate

Governor Sam Brownback vetoes the legislation. (Photo from Brownback's office)

Governor Sam Brownback has vetoed a bill that would expand KanCare, the state's version of the health care program Medicaid. That prompted lawmakers to start, but then delay, an effort to override the veto.

In his veto statement, Brownback said he’s opposed to expanding Medicaid to able-bodied Kansans before the state helps people with disabilities who remain on waiting lists.

Brownback summed it up in a Tweet, calling the plan “bad for Kansas.”

“I am vetoing this expansion of ObamaCare because it fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs,” said Brownback.

He also blasted the legislation for not blocking funding to Planned Parenthood.

"I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life," said Brownback.

Medicaid expansion could potentially offer health care coverage for more than 150,000 low-income Kansans. The governor's veto drew a quick response from lawmakers like Democratic Representative Jim Ward. 

“He created false choices, pitting poor working people against disabled," said Ward. "He put a red herring in there about abortion. When he talks about the cost/benefit, he never addressed any of the benefits,” said Ward.

Just over an hour after the announcement, members of the Kansas House began a contentious, emotional debate on whether they should override the veto.

Republican Representative Susan Concannon said they shouldn’t let concerns about possible changes at the federal level stop them from expanding the health care program.

“If this isn’t the right time, when is the right time? Are we going to wait for some more hospitals to close?” asked Concannon, referring to the closure of a hospital in Independence.

Republican Representative Leonard Mastroni said Medicaid expansion would boost struggling hospitals. He said losing a medical facility would have a ripple effect through the communities in his area of western Kansas.

“If we don’t support Medicaid expansion, you’re going to put a dagger right through the heart of our small communities,” said Mastroni.

Critics of expansion echoed Governor Brownback’s financial concerns, including the chairman of the House Health Committee, Republican Dan Hawkins.

“This one piece of legislation could chart a course of financial disaster for us for a long, long time,” said Hawkins.

Other critics said Kansas has priorities that should be funded first, like improving reimbursement rates to encourage more health care providers to accept Medicaid patients.

Republican Representative Brenda Landwehr said there aren’t enough Medicaid providers to accommodate thousands of new recipients.

“Fund the current commitments first before you go out and expand a program that can’t handle that expansion,” said Landwehr.

Lawmakers eventually decided to delay the veto override debate until next week. There will be lobbying efforts during a three-day weekend on both sides of the issue. It appears supporters of overriding the veto are currently a few votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.

More details from KPR's Stephen Koranda:

From the Kansas News Service, reporter Jim Mclean has the latest on the effort to override Governor Brownback's veto of Medicaid expansion in Kansas:


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