A Senate panel on Thursday torpedoed a compromise plan for Medicaid expansion by overhauling and spiking the legislation.
The action casts more uncertainty on the prospects for Medicaid expansion advancing in the Legislature this year.
"It looks like they've killed the bill for the year, and it looks like the debate's over,“ said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park who negotiated the Medicaid expansion deal with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
Kelly, who made passage of Medicaid expansion a top priority for her administration, called on legislators to demand a vote on the Senate floor.
“We cannot delay expansion any longer and weigh this bipartisan compromise down with additional barriers,” the governor said. “The compromise Republican Sen. Denning and I introduced was sponsored by the majority of Kansas Senators. Partisanship and political games must not get in the way of progress."
Twenty-two senators originally sponsored the Denning-Kelly plan, which would extend health care coverage to Kansas families who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The plan stalled in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee after a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion failed in the House.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita who led the charge for the abortion amendment, slammed the brakes on all health-related legislation moving through the Senate and vowed to block Medicaid expansion from moving forward.
“I appreciate the fact that senators, even those who originally supported the bill, took the time to hear testimony and change positions as new information surfaced,” Wagle said. “This is exactly how democracy is supposed to work, and with more than half the session left, I will continue to fight for the voter’s right to have a say in abortion regulations in Kansas.”
Wagle’s Republican allies on the Senate panel revised the bill with provisions that would allow medical providers to deny services to LGBTQ patients, install work requirements and block the use of state Medicaid funding for abortions. The provisions were written so that the entire plan would be killed if any component were rejected by federal regulators.
Additionally, the plan would be placed on hold until the abortion amendment passes the Legislature and is approved by Kansas voters. Another change would allow a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act to kill the plan.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka who supports the Denning-Kelly version of Medicaid expansion, made a motion to advance the revised plan to the Senate floor, where the full 40-member chamber could continue to alter, debate and ultimately vote on the matter. Instead, the committee rejected the revised plan.
"They voted their own bill down, which goes to show me they're not serious about Medicaid expansion,“ Hensley said.
Denning said the refusal to allow the full chamber to debate a bill that has the support of 22 senators is “no way to govern.”
He blamed the Truth Caucus, a caste of conservative Republicans who oppose Medicaid expansion, for stifling progress.
"They won't let any health care bills come out, so there's no way to amend something on the floor, so it appears that the Truth Caucus has won this round,“ Denning said.
Sen. Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover and chairman of the Truth Caucus, said “nobody’s killed anything." The revised plan is ”more palatable,“ he said, if the committee ever decides to revive it.
"I'm still not a huge proponent of Medicaid expansion, but I'm just one of 40,“ Masterson said. ”I'm not trying to stop the conversation. That's what everybody says is happening, but it's not."
Denning and Hensley said the only path now is to try to secure the 24 votes necessary to pull a bill out of committee and bring it to the Senate floor. An attempt to do so last year fell one vote short.
Advocates for Medicaid expansion expressed frustration at the latest roadblock in a yearslong struggle. The Legislature in 2017 passed a bill that was vetoed by former Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican. The House passed a plan in 2019 that was never debated in the state.
April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said revisions to the Denning-Kelly plan are problematic and jeopardize a “hard-fought bipartisan agreement.”
"Lawmakers are essentially ensuring that expansion will never be implemented in Kansas,“ Holman said. ”We are disappointed by today's turn of events, but the Alliance is committed to fighting for expansion until the end of the Legislative session.“