Lawmakers were greeted after a three-week break Wednesday with large banners and posters held by Kansans pledging their support for Medicaid expansion.
Topeka resident Kevin Siek, along with several other supporters, arrived at the Statehouse to voice his demands to expand Medicaid coverage, known in Kansas as KanCare, to 130,000 low-income adults and children.
“They need to listen to the voice of the people and do the right thing for a change,” Siek said. “It’s high time. It’s long overdue.”
Siek blamed two GOP leaders for thwarting expansion: Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita who expressed interest in seeking higher office, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park.
“The only reason why it hasn’t happened,” Siek said, “is because you got two people in the Senate: Sen. Wagle, who is opposing it because she’s trying to bolster her campaign for the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Denning, who is doing her bidding instead of voting the way that the people in his district and the people of Kansas have indicated they want him to vote.”
The Senate rebuffed an attempt Wednesday to put Medicaid expansion into play. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly expressed disappointment in the outcome of the procedural vote, which demonstrated 23 of 40 senators support expansion.
“It is very clear that a strong majority in the Kansas Senate support Medicaid expansion and want the opportunity to debate and vote on it this year,” Kelly said. “I’m pleased with their courage and determination. I’m also grateful for the work of so many advocates and citizens who fought tirelessly during April to make their voices heard on this issue.”
Kansas, along with 13 other states, has yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers have two weeks remaining on the schedule for this session.
“There is a push to do it right now,” said Barbara Johnston, a Baldwin City resident who took part in the demonstration.
Lawrence resident Stephanie Sanford referred to Medicaid expansion as beneficial for all Kansans.
“They call it a socialist program,” Sanford said, “but let’s talk about our roads. And we support our roads. We support our public schools to a certain degree. We support our hospitals. We support Medicare, and those are all programs that were deemed socialist in the beginning. And if a program is simply there to benefit the people, I’d say that's a good policy.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, expressed his gratitude to the Kansans who believe the Senate should have debated Medicaid expansion and the demonstrators who brought that message to the Statehouse grounds.
"I thank them for taking the time to come to the Capitol to express their support," Hensley said.