Supporters of Medicaid expansion rallied Tuesday inside the Statehouse to send the message they aren't about to back down with a finish line in sight.
After years of pushing for the broadening of health care access to low-income and disabled adults and children, hurdles still stand in the way of legislation that would serve an additional 130,000 Kansans.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, struck a deal with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in the days before the session launched. Their deal was cheered by Medicaid expansion supporters, but the top Republican in both the House and Senate have thrown cold water on the proposal.
The compromise bill was headed to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, where supporters of Medicaid expansion are concerned about the potential for amendments that could derail efforts to secure quick passage. The timing and path for the House remains unclear.
Organizers for Tuesday's event, which was billed as a rally by the Kansas People’s Agenda, called on lawmakers to pass a "clean bill" without work requirements and other controversial provisions. About 100 people attended the second-floor rally.
Renee Kuhl, executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, said her organization houses eight to 10 families and more than 50 individuals on any given night. Even those in the shelter don't qualify for Medicaid under current enrollment limits, she said.
Most of the people who come to the shelter, Kuhl said, suffer from mental health disorders or substance abuse.
“We have to be very clear with our legislators that we’re not going to require people in that type of condition to work to receive Medicaid," Kuhl said. "Their job is to get healthy.”
Kuhl said these individuals can't stay employed until their illness is treated, and "it's cruel to make people jump through hoops when they're already vulnerable."
Last year, the House passed a Medicaid expansion bill that had enough support to pass the Senate, but the chamber's leadership refused to allow a vote on the legislation. Denning then led efforts to develop a more conservative plan during the interim months before entering behind-the-scenes negotiations with his political rival.
The deal between Denning and Kelly would merge several proposals, including the 2017 plan that passed the Legislature but was vetoed by former Gov. Sam Brownback. Medicaid coverage would be available to Kansas families with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which is $29,435 for a family of three.
Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, 90% of Kansas expansion costs would be covered by the federal government. The state's remaining costs would be offset under the Denning-Kelly compromise by a $35 million annual hospital surcharge.
The Senate bill was introduced with 11 Republican and 11 Democratic co-sponsors, which would give it enough votes to pass the 40-member body.
In interviews following Monday's ceremonial open to the session, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, and Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, signaled opposition to the proposal.
"It still looks like we'll be extending benefits to folks who can work," Ryckman said. "It's probably the first time in our state's history. We all agree that we need to have a safety net for those that need it, for folks that are disabled, folks that have children. This will be the first time in our history where we're sending benefits to folks who can work."
Wagle said she has concerns about the Denning-Kelly plan and that "we have a long way to go."
"It's been debated for many years," she said. "And Kansas, so far, hasn't felt comfortable expanding it. We'll see what happens this year."
The Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, of Topeka, encouraged supporters of Medicaid expansion who gathered at the rally to reach out to lawmakers and make it clear their message — health care is a human right — wasn't going away.
“It’s time to get this done so we can move on to other pressing business," Oglesby-Dunegan said.