Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. April 3.
A motion to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill to expand Medicaid eligibility failed Monday in the Kansas House. The 81-44 vote was three short of the override total needed to send the bill to the Senate.
Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the bill last week, saying it would prioritize healthy adults over those with disabilities, although some disability rights groups dispute that characterization.
Two House members who supported the bill in February changed their votes Monday during the override attempt.
Rep. 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.
In explaining his Monday vote against the override, Aurand said he hoped House leaders would form a group to design a new plan.
“I want to tighten this up,” he said.
Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger, a Great Bend Republican who also switched her vote to help defeat the override, said she was concerned about how to fund Medicaid expansion because the Legislature hasn’t come up with a budget plan. She said she would support a future attempt to expand Medicaid.
“This is not any anti-Medicaid expansion vote, I just don’t know how fiscally we’re going to do it,” she said.
Two Republican House members who opposed Medicaid expansion in February — Rep. Fred Patton of Topeka and Rep. Troy Waymaster of Bunker Hill — flipped their votes and voted for the override.
‘Not a welfare bill’
During Monday’s debate, supporters of Medicaid expansion reiterated just about every argument they had used earlier in the session, including that added coverage would assist struggling hospitals, draw down more federal dollars for Kansas and assist low-income people in accessing preventive care.
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.
Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican, told lawmakers to remember that expansion had received widespread support from hospitals and other medical organizations. She also disputed Brownback’s contention that expansion would delay services for people with disabilities.
“Did you know that able-bodied citizens can get cancer?” she said. “Able-bodied citizens need health care as well.”
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, thanked House members for voting to table the bill last week, allowing her to vote Monday in the override attempt. She argued it primarily would benefit working-class Kansans.
“This is not a welfare bill. This is a bill to provide health care to the working poor,” she said.
‘What can we do?’
With the possibility of a veto override looming over the weekend, lawmakers were inundated with emails and calls, said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican who serves as chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and opposed the bill.
After Monday’s vote, he said some 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.
The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a nonprofit advocacy group created to lobby for expansion, said in a statement released after Monday’s vote that it would continue reaching out to lawmakers who voted against the override.
David Jordan, executive director of the alliance, estimated expansion could have brought Kansas more than $1 million a day in federal funds.
“While today’s failed override vote was a lost opportunity to protect our interests as Kansans, we will continue to work hard to expand KanCare,” Jordan said.
Meg Wingerter is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter.