Gov. Laura Kelly called out the Senate's GOP leadership Tuesday for standing in the way of Medicaid expansion, urging action on behalf of uninsured Kansans and struggling rural hospitals.
Senate President Susan Wagle answered her call with a fierce rebuke of the Obamacare system and a personal story of her daughter's medical care.
Kelly, a Democrat who made expansion a priority for her administration, admonished Republican adversaries for refusing to allow a vote on expansion. A bipartisan coalition deployed procedural high jinks to pass legislation in the House two weeks ago, putting the ball in Wagle's court.
Kansans want Medicaid expansion, Kelly said, and they want it now.
"I'm here today to say enough is enough," Kelly said. "No more stall tactics. No more bait and switch. No more excuses. It is time to expand Medicaid in Kansas."
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday for a three-week break before wrapping up business in May. Wagle said she wants more time to study Medicaid expansion, which Kelly dismissed as code for stalling.
Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, insisted the Senate wouldn't accept a plan endorsed by socialist Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who applauded the House effort.
"Gov. Kelly would have us surrender to Obamacare — a bloated and broken system," Wagle said.
Under Obamacare, states can expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to low-income families who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government covers 90 percent of medical costs in expansion states.
Kansas already is struggling, Wagle said, to provide quality care to the 416,000 disabled, elderly, impoverished and pregnant residents who already receive Medicaid services. A study by the Kansas Health Institute predicted expansion would add 130,000 adults and children to the program, which is known as KanCare.
Wagle said she just spent seven nights on a pullout bed in a hospital, seeing first-hand what is going on with insurance coverage. Obamacare failed to reform the system, she said. The cost of care soared, and prescriptions became affordable.
"I have a daughter on chemotherapy who drove by the window to pick up her new line of pills," Wagle said, "and the pharmacist said that will be $2,300. And she drove away. She went back. She knew she had to take the pills."
If Medicaid expansion were to pass, Wagle said, and more people signed up than expected, Kansas will again face a financial crisis that will lead to a tax increase.
"We cannot saddle taxpayers with this huge financial liability and another tax increase," Wagle said. "We must work toward finding the proper solution to the soaring and affordable costs of health care. Expanding on a failed system that has become too expensive for most Americans is not the answer."
The plan passed by the House would expand access to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and was expected to have an impact of about $30 million on the state budget. That was before an amendment that attached a $25 monthly fee for those who sign up, providing a revenue stream that could offset the state's cost.
Kelly said she was confident in the cost estimates for Medicaid expansion.
The governor was less confident that her latest call to action would spur Senate leadership to allow a vote, but she hoped to appeal to moderate Republicans, those "better angels" who could help stage another procedural stunt.
"I don't know if it's going to work," Kelly said. "I'm hoping they heed the call."
Wagle said she expected to encounter some sort of maneuver in the next couple of days.