PITTSBURG — Republican and Democratic politicians visited Pittsburg Tuesday and spoke about potentially expanding the state’s Medicaid program — at separate events that happened to end up split along party lines.
Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers stopped at several locations in Pittsburg, including the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as three stops in town as part of a “Rural Healthcare Tour.”
In an interview at a “Community Forum” event attended by just over two dozen people at The Foundry on Broadway in Pittsburg, Rogers spoke in support of a proposal to expand KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
“We think it would be a great economic benefit to all of Kansas but to Crawford County in particular,” Rogers said. “It would mean about $11 million more in healthcare spending here in the county of Crawford alone. 1,668 additional residents would have health insurance, so you know, the uncompensated care that hospitals have to cover because people don’t have health insurance, that would be reduced.”
Rogers was also scheduled to appear at the Student Government Day event at Memorial Auditorium earlier in the day, but did not make it because of bad weather.
Politicians who did attend Student Government Day included State Rep. Ken Collins (R-Mulberry) and State Sen. Richard Hilderbrand (R-Galena). Both answered students’ questions related to the proposal to expand KanCare and the recent vote in the Kansas House of Representatives in favor of the plan.
“How it passed in the House, it was what they call a ‘gut-and-go’ process,” Hilderbrand said. “There was a bill that the House was getting ready to debate and it went through the committee process in the House, passed out of the House onto the floor, they were getting ready to debate it. It was a nurse practitioners bill that would allow rural Kansas to have nurse practitioners operate more outside the scope of the doctor, hopefully help the healthcare in rural Kansas. So that bill was on the floor. The House did what is called a gut-and-go, so they stripped the contents out of that bill, so the nurse practitioners part got removed and in place of that, Medicaid expansion got put in there.”
Rep. Collins, who voted against the bill, similarly said he had concerns about the process that led to the vote on expanding KanCare.
“I received a lot of emails both for or against House Bill 2066 and had a lot of lobbyists talk to me about it, you know, both proponents and opponents, and so went through the whole session hearing about House Bill 2066 and then at the last minute, it was changed to something different than what it was to begin with,” Collins said.
Collins and Hilderbrand also answered a student question about student protesters who were temporarily banned from the Statehouse after unfurling banners accusing Medicaid expansion opponents of having “blood on their hands.” Though the ban was quickly reversed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has nonetheless filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students challenging the Statehouse policy on signs and demonstrations.
“I’m all for freedom of expression but there are some limits that come with that,” Collins said. “As far as banners that they did at the capital, there are rules there at the capital of course about what you can do and how to go about it, and I think as long as those rules are applied the same to anyone regardless of their particular issue [...] which I think in this case they were, then there have to be limits.”
Sen. Hilderbrand also addressed the issue.
“The state capital is the people’s house,” he said. “So you should be able to voice your opinion or display your opinion at any time. I think the only thing I would’ve cautioned them, the people who put that up, is because this is a historical building, they didn’t take into consideration of how they were hanging their display, and I think that might have caused a little bit of problems for them more than the other part.”
Rep. Monica Murnan was also scheduled to attend the Student Government Day discussion, but did not make it to the event. The Morning Sun caught up with Murnan later in the day, however, at Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, where she, along with Lt. Gov. Rogers and Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman learned about the facility and heard concerns from its leadership as part of Rogers’s Rural Healthcare Tour.
In an interview at the Community Health Center, Murnan discussed her reasons for supporting HB 2066.
“I believe that we are long past due in Kansas for taking advantage of the dollars that are available from the federal government to expand Medicaid, that’s why I voted for it,” Murnan said. “I believe that it is not only a compassionate and humane thing to do to cover 150,000 Kansans with basic health insurance, but I also believe it’s an economic development issue. We have heard loud and clear from our hospitals and our community health providers, our mental health providers, that expanding Medicaid would allow them to continue to do what they do.”
The 150,000 figure cited by Murnan and also by Lt. Gov. Rogers at his community forum at The Foundry appears to come from the group Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.
“The bottom line is, [KanCare expansion] would improve the health and financial security for about 150,000 people in Kansas, we estimate,” said April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, at the community forum event.
A separate study released by the Kansas Health Institute in March, however, had somewhat different findings.
“Nearly 130,000 Kansans (including 90,000 adults and 40,000 children) are estimated to newly enroll in KanCare if Medicaid is expanded, an increase of 31 percent in the number of program enrollees,” according to that study. “Of the projected new enrollees, about 75,000 were previously uninsured, while about 55,000 were already insured and expected to switch to KanCare.”
Murnan additionally addressed Republicans’ concerns about the “gut-and-go” process that allowed the House vote on HB 2066 as a revised version of Gov. Laura Kelly’s KanCare expansion proposal.
“I have concerns when a few people in leadership in the state legislature put off honest debate, and there has been no point in time in this current session that either the House or the Senate was allowed to debate the topic,” Murnan said. “So the action that was taken, which is based on a House rule that allows for that process to happen was only taken because a few people were blocking it. That’s exactly what is happening in the Senate right now. The president of the Senate and the majority leader are blocking the Senate from having a conversation. When we go back on May 1, there was a motion made prior to adjournment which will require a vote to at least pull the bill out of committee, the first step. I don’t think democracy was built upon a few people tamping down conversations, and that’s what we’ve had in the State of Kansas. That concerns me.”
Murnan also attended Lt. Gov. Rogers’s Community Forum on Tuesday at The Foundry, another stop on his Rural Healthcare Tour, which also included a tour of Via Christi Hospital.
At the Community Forum, Rogers also discussed the lack of debate in the Kansas Senate about the proposal to expand Medicaid.
“We’re hoping that people will call their legislators, and even if their legislator isn’t in favor, we hope that they will at least allow a debate, because we just have a couple of senators that are in leadership that are holding it hostage and not letting it come to the floor,” Rogers said, “and we think it’s important that democracy is given a chance, and that we at least get to debate it and, you know, they can talk about the pros and cons and if it doesn’t win it doesn’t win, but that’s important.”