Kansas Senate candidates on the issues: Medicaid expansion

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of November’s general election. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for seats in the Kansas Senate.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item #2:

Would you vote for a bill to expand Medicaid? If not, how do you justify that choice in regard to loss of Federal funds, loss of medical facilities especially in rural areas and increasing numbers of Kansans without health insurance? If yes, how do you respond to critics who say it will cost too much?

District 6 (Northeast Johnson County)

Pat Pettey (Incumbent Democrat)

I am a strong supporter of Medicaid Expansion. We have lost over $4 billion coming to the state of Kansas and all of our neighboring states have now adopted Medicaid Expansion. We have at least 150,000 mostly low-income WORKING Kansans that would benefit. This is good for our economy and in is good for the health of our state.

Last year the Hospital Association had stepped up to help cover part of the state cost and the governor had included it in her budget proposal. None of the 37 states that have adopted Medicaid Expansion have dropped out. We cannot afford to NOT pass Medicaid Expansion.

Diana Whittington (Republican)

Did not respond.

District 7 (Northeast Johnson County)

Ethan Corson (Democrat)

Medicaid Expansion is a moral and economic imperative for Kansas. I hope to vote for Expansion on Day 1 of the next legislative session. Our state should have passed Expansion years ago. But failing to do so in the face of a global pandemic that is continually increasing the number of Kansans without employer sponsored health insurance is morally wrong and terrible economics.

Expansion would provide health insurance to over 130,000 Kansans, including 40,000 children and over 10,500 Johnson Countians. Put simply, Medicaid Expansion means a healthier workforce and healthier families. Plus, Expansion would bring $700 million annually into our state’s economy and create 13,000 jobs. It would also result in less uncompensated care, which is passed along to those who have insurance in the form of higher premiums.

Kansas now has the unfortunate distinction of being the only state in our region, and one of only 12 states in the country, that has not passed Expansion. Our failure to do so means we continue to forfeit $1.8 million-per-day in federal aid. All told, Kansas has lost out on $4.20 billion — that’s billion with a B – since 2014.

Medicaid Expansion is also critical to our rural healthcare system, which was struggling even before COVID-19. We have already seen hospitals close in Great Bend, Independence, and Fort Scott, and 30% of our remaining rural hospitals are under serious financial stress. In addition to the loss of critical healthcare services, the loss of a hospital creates a host of other challenges for rural communities, because a hospital is typically one of the community’s largest employers, and businesses and young families are reluctant to come to a community without a hospital.

We should have done Medicaid Expansion years ago – unfortunately, it was vetoed in 2017 by Sam Brownback, who my opponent strongly supported, including appearing in his campaign commercials. I’ve been a consistent advocate for Medicaid Expansion, working to help elect Gov. Laura Kelly and pro-Expansion state legislators. Kansas can’t wait any longer. We should pass Expansion on Day 1 of the upcoming legislative session.

Laura McConwell (Republican)

Yes,  I liked the compromise legislation created by Governor Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Denning and will work to get that done. The plan expands access to healthcare/mental healthcare to vulnerable residents and addresses the very real budgetary concerns by being revenue neutral.

As a practical matter, many who previously failed to qualify do now because of the loss of jobs. Telemedicine was rolled out several years ago by urban area hospitals and it is now being robustly used across our state for patients to access health providers.  I am hopeful that a benefit of the pandemic is that we continue to improve our delivery of health and mental care to Kansans while containing our costs.

District 8 (I-435 Corridor)

James Todd (Republican)

I support Medicaid (Kancare) expansion in Kansas. My mother had Multiple Sclerosis. This horrible disease left her disabled and dependent on Medicaid and Medicare for her health insurance. I have seen how Kancare can help an individual.

The current pandemic has shown the cracks that exist in the current healthcare system and how important healthcare access is. I will work to increase healthcare access in Kansas.

Cindy Holscher (Democrat)

I have voted for Medicaid Expansion every time it has come to the House floor.  Additionally, as a freshman representative, I worked with a bipartisan group of Legislators to help shape the argument for Medicaid Expansion and was chosen to speak in its favor on the floor.

Various plans that have been brought forward have been budget neutral, so the argument of cost has been addressed.  Additionally, the economic impact of expansion is notable; it would mean the addition of needed specialists in some of our facilities as well as presenting some from closing down due to accumulated debt from unpaid claims. Those are very positive contributions to our economy.

For us to not expand over the past several years has been fiscally irresponsible as we have forfeited close to $4B in our taxpayer money; that money should be coming back to Kansas to help our people and our economies.

District 10 (Shawnee, Lake Quivira, parts of Overland Park and Merriam)

Mike Thompson (Incumbent Republican)

Medicaid should be preserved for those it was intended and currently serves – the most vulnerable in our society, such as the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women.

We should focus on shortening the waiting lists so this critical safety net is available.  We should not undermine that effort by including able-bodied adults, many of whom would be kicked off their private plans and can currently obtain coverage through their employer, through the exchange, or a variety of other options that are presently available.

Lindsey Constance (Democrat)

I will absolutely vote for a bill to expand Medicaid. Kansans’ taxpayer dollars already go toward Medicaid; our failure to expand the program ensures that those dollars do not benefit Kansans.

It is the fiscally responsible thing to do, and it is the moral thing to do. When we provide as many as 150,000 Kansans with access to healthcare, we keep local hospitals and clinics open, and maintain and create essential jobs across the state. Furthermore, a healthier, more productive workforce helps our state economy grow. A healthy workforce is the only way to restart our state’s economy and create good-paying jobs for Kansans today and tomorrow.

District 11 (I-435 Corridor)

Kellie Warren (Republican)

All Kansans should have access to affordable health care. There are a number of steps we can take to achieve this. It starts with preserving Medicaid and improving it so those who are already eligible and in line to get services can obtain them. I have a friend who is eligible and would apply for benefits, but does not because the wait for services is so long that services are not accessible.

We must address that issue and devote the resources necessary to shorten the waiting lists. For able-bodied adults, who are the Medicaid expansion population, they should not be removed from their private insurance, but more affordable choices should be offered, Kansas should expand the array of choices available so they can obtain affordable coverage for themselves and their families.

Joy Koesten (Democrat)

Medicaid expansion has worked in every state where it has been approved. Even the conservative ones, and not one state has reversed course since expanding Medicaid. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term investment.

Access to health care is critical to every Kansan. Medicaid expansion would strengthen our ability to manage this public health crisis, save lives, and reduce the burden of uncompensated care for our hospitals.

Medicaid expansion would bring our federal tax dollars and good jobs back to Kansas. Kellie Warren has voted repeatedly to send our tax dollars to the 38 states (plus DC) that have passed Medicaid expansion, instead of keeping our tax dollars here. We’ve already forfeited more than $4 BILLION to other states. This has to stop! Kellie Warren says she wants to protect our lives & livelihoods. Yet, in the midst of public health and economic crises, she has been adamantly opposed to providing more jobs for Kansans.

When I served in the Kansas House in 2017-2018, we got so close to passing Medicaid expansion, only to have it vetoed by Governor Brownback. As Senator, I will continue to fight for Medicaid expansion because Kansans deserve access to care, and service providers deserve to be paid.

District 21 (Lenexa, parts of Overland Park and Shawnee)

Dinah Sykes (Incumbent Democrat)

Failure to expand Medicaid has always been short sighted now it is indefensible. I have been a strong supporter of expanding Medicaid and led the charge multiple times in the Senate to consider this issue. Medicaid expansion will bring our tax dollars back to Kansas, help eliminate the gap of working Kansans not able to afford health coverage, and help our rural communities by giving them the healthcare options they need.

Not expanding Medicaid is costing us $1.8 million per day. The uncompensated care is costing our hospitals. Johnson County alone would be reimbursed $3 million of the $4 million we are currently spending on mental health services. The bipartisan agreement we tried to pass last session included a clawback if federal contributions changed so that our state would be protected.

Tom Bickimer (Republican)

There are reasons why I and all of our local chambers of commerce support Medicaid Expansion. By expanding Medicaid, more insured Kansans translates into lower healthcare costs, attracts more labor-intensive businesses to our State, and frees up additional discretionary income for Kansas families.

Fears that expansion would over-burden the State’s budget can be mitigated by instituting stop-gap measures to protect the budget.

The fact is, by not expanding Medicaid, Kansas has left billions of federal funds on the table- our federal tax dollars going to other states, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item #3:

Politics seems more polarized than ever, with activists in both parties seeking ideological conformity on many issues. What experience or relationships can you point to that show you have an ability to reach out and work with those who might not always agree with you? Please give specific examples.