Medicaid expansion was a pillar of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s campaign last year. All that is standing in the way of that promise is an affirmative vote by the Kansas Senate come May.

Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers are pulling out all the stops during the April recess to pressure their former Senate colleagues to debate the House bill, pass it, and send it to her office. The Kansas House passed a bill before the recess.

Kelly and Rogers are criss-crossing the state talking with the public through townhall meetings. The pair spent Wednesday in Ottawa. Rogers met with Ransom Memorial Hospital employees and others Wednesday afternoon prior to the townhall meeting at Neosho County Community College, which also included Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, and Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellsville.

Kelly said the townhall meetings are a way for her administration to connect with Kansans.

“On the campaign trail, we made it very clear we want to stay close to the folks,” Kelly said. “We want to hear what you have to say. We want you to help us guide our administration along as we work to put Kansas back together again.”

The hot topic was medicaid expansion. Kelly said expansion would be a boon for Kansas.

“Medicaid expansion will help Kansas in a whole host of ways, including shoring up some of our rural hospitals,” Kelly said. “We know from all the research that has been done at least 130,000 or may be up to 150,000 Kansans will have access to affordable healthcare should we expand medicaid. One year after Louisiana expanded medicaid, they saw the creation of 7,000 new jobs, may be up to 19,000 new jobs. They saw a $317 million savings. What they don’t talk about is how much will they save to expand medicaid. In our corrections system alone, we are predicting an $11 million savings.”

Rogers heard from hospital executives across the state that medicaid expansion would increase revenue. He said expansion could bring $2 million per year to RMH and take Emporia from a negative $386,000 to a $2 million profit.

“All hospitals in the state of Kansas have a negative operating margin,” he said. “What that means they are not making money. If they are not making money, businesses don’t stay in place. Many of those hospitals gave up a lot income when the affordable care act was passed under the premise that everyone would have insurance. That did not happen in states that did not expand medicaid.”

Tyson said medicare expansion needs to be debated by her colleagues.

“We need a targeted solution for Kansas,” she said. “We can’t accept blanket medicaid. We can’t afford it currently, especially with what we passed for school funding. I know states have done specific targeted solutions. We can look to Utah and other states that have put in specific language that fits their needs. That is what we need to do for the state of Kansas.”

Kelly said the Kansas economy is tied to medicaid expansion.

“The economy would grow,” she said. “That is what is found in every single state [that has expanded medicaid]. When that happens, you have more jobs, more people paying into the system and providing more revenue, so we can broaden our tax base and keep it reasonable.”

The governor said there are misconceptions about medicaid expansion.

“First of all, that we can’t afford it,” Kelly said. “I submitted a budget in January to the Legislature that paid for medicaid expansion, expanded our schools funding to meet the requirements of the court, enhance our children welfare system and stop transfer of funds out of the transportation system. I would suggest that we can’t afford not to expand medicaid expansion. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Tyson agreed Kelly’s proposed budget would be balanced for a couple of years.

“We don’t need to write a blank check we can’t afford,” Tyson said. “We have to balance the budget as legislators. The current proposal is blanket exception. It is not putting in solutions. We can write the equation to fit Kansas.”

Rogers blamed Senate leadership for bogging down the expansion debate.

“The ability to talk about healthcare has been bottled up in the Legislature by one or two leaders,” Robb said. “We need to be able to stand up and talk about all of these issues. We see it as a great benefit to rural Kansas and also helps urban Kansas. It helps every single hospital in the state of Kansas no matter what the size or what they provide.”

Kelly said there is absolutely no reason for the Senate to not take this issue up in May. She added a poll revealed 77 percent of Kansans were in favor of medicaid expansion.

“It is not being discussed for ideological and political purposes,” she said. “There are no good reasons not to expand medicaid. We want to persuade our Legislative leadership to step up and allow the vote. There was a motion made the last day of the session — before first adjournment — to bring up the vote on medication expansion. That is pending. For what we need is for Legislative leadership to unlock that door and let it loose.”

Tyson said the Senators are not opposed to debating the issue.

“The chairman of the health committee is more than willing to look at this,” Tyson said. “He is looking at it right now over the break. There are many of us looking at it to try to and come up with a targeted Kansas solution. The Senate is a little bit more meticulous. We need good policy.”

Samsel said the House bill is flawed and hopes his Senate brethren can flesh those out.

Kelly said the people affected by expansion are hard-working folks with lower-paying jobs.

“You look at the expansion population and those people are more likely working,” Kelly said. “They are working low-income, no insurance-provided jobs. That is why they need medicaid expansion. Those who are not have some kind of disability, including mental health issues, that make it impossible for them to hold down a full-time job. We are using those folks as an excuse not to expand medicaid.”

Tyson said in the end legislators need to do what is best for all Kansans.

“We do need good policy that fits Kansas,” she said. “Absolutely want to make sure we have the coverage we need for Kansas. The devil is in the details. When you guys were in the Senate, we debated the language. It is not new to the chamber.”