After a group of K-State students hung banners in the Statehouse in April claiming that blood was on his and other Republican representatives’ hands for not expanding Medicaid in Kansas, House majority leader Dan Hawkins said he’s only “ticked off” that he didn’t get to keep the banner with his name on it.
Hawkins spoke to a group of 12 students with the College Republicans at Kansas State University on Monday evening, speaking about his and other Kansas conservatives’ priorities for the next legislative session. He particularly outlined opposition to Medicaid expansion, calling any expansion a costly addition to an already cash-strapped state budget.
“I’m a person who’s pretty set and solid where I’m at when it comes to Medicaid expansion,” Hawkins said. “For the past five years, I’ve worked every single day of my legislative career trying to stop legislative expansion. A lot of people will say that I hate poor people or that I hate disabled people. They don’t know what they’re talking about when they say that.”
A bipartisan push for Medicaid expansion in Kansas failed earlier this year after the House voted to move forward with expansion. A majority of senators indicted they supported expansion, but the Senate fell one vote short of a 24-vote supermajority needed to force a vote on Medicaid expansion. Those votes came after both the Senate and House had voted to approve expansion in 2017 but couldn’t override a veto by then-Gov. Sam Brownback. Kansas is one of 14 states that have not passed Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid is a mostly federally funded program that provides health insurance to low-income and disabled people.
States have the ability to expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals and families who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Hawkins claimed that the state’s Medicaid program already covers several of the state’s more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, disabled, poor and children who aren’t already covered by other programs.
Any expansion of the program would primarily benefit childless adults between 19 and 64 years of age, Hawkins said — a population of about 150,000 that should be able to work and receive coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Through the ACA, those adults would receive fully-subsidized healthcare without deductibles, premiums or co-insurance for an approximate $20 monthly premium, he said.
The Kansas Health Institute estimates a lower figure for new Medicaid enrollees if expansion were to pass. They expect just under 130,000 Kansans would enroll in the program if it were expanded, with about 40,000 of them being children. That would increase the state’s Medicaid recipient pool by 31%.
Hawkins also told the group of College Republicans that he had written several letters to the editor to all of the state’s newspapers explaining his position on Medicaid expansion but had not received any coverage. He said that demonstrated a media bias on leading citizens to support Medicaid expansion.
“I really truly believe that our government was meant to do certain things,” Hawkins said. “Our government never gave us the right to healthcare.”
Medicaid expansion would not solve the financial issues plaguing rural healthcare, Hawkins said, and would actually displace many of the state’s existing Medicaid recipients, as many of the state’s doctors are reluctant to accept Medicaid. However, the Kansas Hospital Association has said that any new revenue from Medicaid expansion would go a long way for already struggling rural hospitals.
While he’d never been on K-State’s campus before (or the University of Kansas’, for that matter), Hawkins said he did remember the April incident when three K-State students accused him of letting people die by refusing to consider Medicaid expansion by hanging banners with bloody handprints in the state capitol. He said he really wanted the banner but didn’t get to keep it.
“A lot of people think that those types of things bother us,” Hawkins said. “If those bother us, if we’re that thin-skinned, it would be pretty tough for us to work up there because we’re constantly receiving feedback, whether it be positive or negative. If you let the negative bother you all the time, it gets pretty difficult, so you just don’t even pay attention to it that much.”
Hawkins said the state could not take on any additional spending, and even though the federal government would pick up 90% of the estimated $1 billion dollar tab on Medicaid expansion in the state, Kansas would still have to pay an additional $100 million for Medicaid expansion.
Based on current spending trajectories, Hawkins said that Kansas’s current $905 million surplus in the state treasury will turn into a $500 million deficit by the time Gov. Laura Kelly leaves office in 2022, which he blamed, in part, on the Kansas Supreme Court’s school funding decision earlier this year.
Last month, Senate majority leader and Republican Jim Denning pushed a new Medicaid expansion proposal through a Senate committee, although Hawkins said Denning’s bill will likely be gutted in the House, and even Democrats in the Senate have been skeptical of Denning’s bill.
Hawkins said Republicans also would focus on passing a constitutional amendment to add language stating that there is no constitutional right to abortion during the next legislative session. The amendment would allow state legislators to pass laws on the issue after an April ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court in which six out of the court’s seven judges determined that the state constitution protects women’s rights to abortions.
He said he was not yet sure what that process or the language of any amendment would look like, but he and other Republicans will meet over the coming months to develop a plan for the proposed amendment.