On July 6, Sen Jerry Moran, R-Kan., temporarily embraced boldness after a town hall meeting in Palco. Our junior senator met hundreds of constituents to discuss the healthcare experiences of real people from all across the state. Rural and urban hospital administrators came to argue for Medicaid funding, and he got an earful from a northwest Kansas doctor who once provided care to the senator’s children.
Our senator said he was not going to vote for Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s “Better Health Care Reform Act” because it failed to serve the interests of Moran’s constituents. This epiphany seemed to reflect a sympathetic understanding of the many issues inherent in the healthcare debate in Kansas.
Not long ago in Kansas, a life cut short by mishap or illness was commonplace. Such events were mostly “bad luck” or fate, and so the burden was individual and familial. The community was mostly there for the mourning. Then things changed. Medical research, healthcare and government policies produced unimaginable change since the mid-20th Century. Unexpected death became rarer, and chronic illness managed with diet, good medical care and medications became the norm. Good healthcare began to seem less a random privilege and more a right.
Medicare commenced in 1965. It is now universally available for Americans at age 65. Today, 435,000 Kansans are age eligible for Medicare. Medicaid assists many elderly — both rural and urban — who can’t afford nursing care on their own. Today 43,000 Kansas seniors receive such assistance. In all, 425,000 Kansans were enrolled in Medicaid and SCHIP at the end of 2016. There are 204,000 Kansas veterans, of which 16 percent (32,000) are rated for disability and receive some VA health benefits. Nearly 100,000 Kansans were enrolled in ACA health insurance coverage at the end of the 2017 enrollment period last winter.
Even allowing for the overlap amongst the populations just described and the many other Kansans who have benefited from the inclusion of preventive health screenings and the extension of insurance coverage to adult children under parental medical insurance mandated by the ACA, well more than a million Kansans benefit from federal health programs and policies.
The number grows larger when considering one of the arguments made to Moran that he embraced as justification for his opposition to BCRA. Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements are linchpins to the economic viability of hospitals and clinics all across rural and suburban Kansas. In short, healthcare for the most at-risk and, truth be told, all the rest of us has moved from being a system of significant risk and inconsistent effectiveness to something that works albeit too expensively for everyone’s taste.
When Moran and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah announced they would not vote for BCRA, Senate Majority Leader McConnell proposed a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a commitment to make the repeal effective after the 2018 election so a replacement capable of attracting a perhaps bipartisan majority might be constructed. This is a “hamburger today for which I shall pay you Tuesday” approach for the gullible.
If repeal occurs first, the matter will become the battle cry of the 2018 congressional elections, and after that, a deflated and scuffed football to be kicked all the way to the end of the 2020 presidential election season and beyond.
Now is the time for Moran to stop auditioning for the role of Wimpy in the “Hamburger Today” show and instead embrace the role of leadership and advocacy for the million and more constituents in Kansas who know these health policy issues need to be fixed now — not repealed with a feeble commitment to “replace” later.
Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka.