Kansas Governor Sam Brownback vetoes Republican bill to expand Medicaid

Brownback is blaming "the abortion industry," as he cut health care for hundreds of thousands of Kansas residents

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published March 30, 2017 5:30PM (EDT)

 (AP/Orlin Wagner)
(AP/Orlin Wagner)

Blaming “the abortion industry,” America’s least popular governor, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, delivered a highly anticipated veto to a Republican-led effort to expand health care coverage in the Sunflower State on Thursday.

In 2014, Brownback signed a bill requiring legislative approval before the state could expand KanCare, as the state's Medicaid program is known. But after many of the conservative lawmakers who blocked prior efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act were swept out of office in last year's election, Kansas' Republican-controlled Legislature provided that approval this week.

“I can’t believe it took this long to do it,” Republicans Sen. John Doll told the Kansas City Star after the bill passed earlier this week. “This is something that’s long overdue.”

While the bill passed both Republican-controlled chambers by comfortable bipartisan majorities, supporters were short of the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a Brownback veto. The expansion would cover hundreds of thousands of people who either do not qualify for Medicaid or cannot afford insurance.

Obamacare encouraged states to expand their programs by promising to pay most of the cost. Republicans in the state — weary of the federal government funding mechanism in Obamacare — required that Medicaid expansion end if the federal match ever dips below the guaranteed 90 percent. 

Brownback remained unswayed by the pleas from his own party.

“I am vetoing this expansion of ObamaCare because it fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs,” he said in his veto statement. “Most grievously, this legislation funnels more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. From its infancy, the state of Kansas has affirmed the dignity and equality of each human life. I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life.”

More than 11 million low-income adults have gained coverage in the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid so far, according to CNN. Analysts estimate the Republican-backed bill to expand Medicaid in Kansas would cover 150,000 currently uninsured people in the state and create as many as 4,000 jobs.

Many hospitals in Kansas blame the high number of uninsured patients for financial woes and have lobbied for expansion of Medicaid. They point out that the state has forfeited nearly $1.8 billion in federal funds since 2014.

But Brownback said that “the cost of expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare is irresponsible and unsustainable.” He argued against “such a drastic change to our Medicaid system” while Republicans in Washington rehash efforts to repeal Obamacare. The governor recently wrote a letter to urge House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support President Donald Trump’s alternative. Of course, the American Health Care Act eventually suffered an ignominious defeat.

The Trump administration recently signaled it was open to further Medicaid expansion in the Red States that have remained resistant for years, so long as states impose work requirements. In his veto, Brownback complained that that the bill doesn’t include a work requirement, as his recent reform to welfare in the state required.

Brownback’s veto means the legislature has 30 days to override the governor or accept his decision. The bill's supporters would need 27 of 40 votes in the Senate and 84 of 125 in the House for the two-thirds majorities for overriding a veto.

Thursday’s veto comes as several states, including Georgia and Virginia, are signaling an openness to expand Medicaid after an Obamacare repeal bill was pulled by House GOP leadership last Friday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Gov. Sam Brownback Kansas Medicaid Expansion Obamacare