Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona: pigs do fly – again!


Back in February I posted about something truly remarkable that happened in the state legislature of Brownbackistan fna Kansas: it passed an income tax increase to begin repairing the fiscal damage to the state caused by Governor Sam Brownback and Tea-Publicans’ religious experiment in creating a faith based supply-side “trickle down” utopia in America’s heartland. Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona: pigs do fly!

Of course, trickle-down high priest Sam Brownback vetoed the income tax increase, and his veto was sustained by just enough Tea-publican trickle-down acolytes. Kansas Lawmakers Uphold Governor’s Veto of Tax Increases. Brownbackistan continues to circle the drain.

This week, something truly remarkable happened again in the state legislature of Brownbackistan fna Kansas: The Kansas Senate voted 25-14 to send a Medicaid expansion bill to Gov. Sam Brownback about a month after the Kansas House passed the same measure 81-44. Holy shit, pigs do fly! After five years, KanCare expansion advocates celebrate. Once again, the bill faces a certain veto from trickle-down high priest Sam Brownback.

Over the last five years, Sheldon Weisgrau has given more than a hundred presentations in dozens of Kansas counties urging support for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

He was told often that he and other advocates were wasting their time — that expansion would never get the votes in the Legislature. Not in a red state like Kansas.

Then, on Tuesday, it did.

[T]he votes were a dramatic turnaround that Weisgrau, a Lawrence resident who leads the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved’s ACA implementation efforts, attributed to a grass-roots push from Kansans who aren’t usually involved in the political process.

“I think health care is absolutely different than most public policy issues people deal with,” Weisgrau said. “It’s very personal. I think a lot of people view it in a very personal way and see how it affects them or their family or friends and neighbors.

“This has been a long time coming,” he added.

* * *

Kansas was among 19 Republican-led states that declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act aka”Obamacare.”

KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, continues to be accessible mainly to low-income children, pregnant women and people with disabilities.

For years, Medicaid expansion bills could not get a hearing, much less a vote in deep-red Kansas. But pressure built from hospitals that stood to gain financially from treating fewer uninsured patients and progressive voters galvanized by the issue and the state’s ongoing budget problems.

Last November was a turning point. The Legislature took on a more centrist look as candidates who made expansion a centerpiece of their campaigns, like Rep. Cindy Holscher of Olathe and Sen. John Skubal of Overland Park, defeated staunch expansion opponents.

Leawood resident Michele Neylon said Skubal’s predecessor, Sen. Jeff Melcher, wouldn’t listen to arguments in favor of expansion and it frustrated her.

“I’m pleased moderates have gotten at least a little control,” Neylon said. “I just decided I need to be more vocal.”

When expansion got a hearing this year, Neylon submitted testimony for the first time. So did Edward Acosta of Olathe and Roxanne Belcher of Overland Park.

Acosta, a retired social worker for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said he had watched uninsured military veterans who weren’t eligible for care at VA hospitals struggle to manage chronic illnesses. He was also concerned about the future of his 2-year-old grandson, who has a seizure disorder.

Neurological problems run in his family, Acosta said, and it’s made him more sympathetic to expanding KanCare.

“The moral argument wins, hands down,” Acosta said.

Belcher, a librarian, weighed in on expansion after her son turned 26 and was no longer covered under her insurance plan. She said behaviors caused by his mental illness landed him in jail and the Osawatomie State Hospital in the past, but his application for KanCare currently depends on him being designated as disabled.

Belcher said she didn’t feel “super-informed” about politics, but turning away federal money while the state struggles to provide care to the mentally ill never made sense to her.

It means “more people being insured, which is really good, like adults who don’t have a disability but are living in poverty,” Belcher said. “I’m happy that it seems like we’re going in the right direction.”

Wyandotte County residents also weighed in. With Congress weighing repeal of the ACA, Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland helped organize a letter-writing campaign earlier this month that drew more than 500 responses urging the local delegation to reconsider. Holland has been an outspoken advocate for expansion, which stayed alive when the repeal effort fizzled Friday.

Jerry Jones, the executive director of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, said county leaders have worked hard to lower the uninsured rate, but it remains one of the highest in the state.

“Medicaid expansion would be huge, of course, for Wyandotte County in particular,” Jones said. “For our residents as well as our providers. We obviously are excited about what happened in the Senate today, and we know the governor is going to weigh in, and that’s fine.”

Brownback will have 10 days from the time he gets the bill to decide whether to veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature. Conservative and business groups opposed to increasing government’s role in the health care sector and concerned about the cost to the state have already urged him to veto it.

Asked for a comment about the governor’s plans for the legislation, Brownback’s spokeswoman Melika Willoughby referred to Brownback’s previous statement that “to expand Obamacare when the program is in a death spiral is not responsible policy.”

* * *

If Brownback does veto the bill, it will take 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate to override his veto. That may be a tough task, as conservative lawmakers were already saying after the vote that they would not be flipped and were hopeful the Senate, or even the House, could defeat a veto override effort.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, voted against the expansion effort, saying that the bill was not “revenue neutral.”

Asked whether she would reconsider in the case of a veto override effort, Wagle said, “No.”

“I think this does add a cost on to the state,” Wagle said. “And I also believe the feds will not stick with their end of the bargain.”

Weisgrau said the advocates who have been focused on getting a vote on expansion for years will now shift their focus to urging the governor not to veto it, and urging the Legislature to override his veto if he does.

Charles Pierce at Esquire writes, I Can’t Wait for Sam Brownback to Try to Screw This Up:

Nothing would please me more than to see the Kansas legislature override Governor Sam’s veto. (Based on the vote on the expansion itself, the proponents are two votes short in the state senate.) Nonetheless, just putting this bill on Brownback’s desk indicates a sea change on a number of levels.

First, the debacle overseen in Washington by the president* and Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, has had wide-ranging ripple effects. The opposition to the Medicaid expansion in Kansas depended vitally on some kind of healthcare deal passing in Washington that undid the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid provisions. When that effort cratered, the opposition in Kansas had no serious argument left.

Second, the underlying premise of the Affordable Care Act—namely, that the way we used to do healthcare in this country was hopelessly screwed and that it’s time for the United States to progress, however fitfully, towards the kind of health-care enjoyed by the rest of the industrialized world—has taken deep root among the people out in the country. Healthcare as a basic human right (Thanks, Bernie!) is becoming something that you mess with at your political peril, even in Kansas. It even is becoming immune to the typical conservative attack on the concept of a social safety net: that Those People are picking your pocket. Medicaid expansion benefits mainly those people whose political power is otherwise limited, but Kansas just voted for more of it, not less.

Third, hell, man, it’s Kansas. What more do you want?

The majority of Kansans who both need and want Medicaid expansion under Obamacare are being thwarted by a minority of ideological extremists, just like here in Arizona, who practice the false religion of faith based supply-side “trickle down” economics. Ridding ourselves of these ideological extremists is our only hope.

UPDATE: But of course . . . Kansas governor vetoes Medicaid expansion, teeing up fight with state legislature. Dante needs to add a new ring of hell in the Inferno for Tea-Publican “Koch-bot” governors.