David Jordan: Kansans support Medicaid expansion

Elections matter. While we did not have any statewide or legislative race in Kansas on Tuesday, election results in Maine and Virginia sent a clear message to Kansas politicians preparing for campaigns in 2018: Expand KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program to cover more Kansans.

 

In Maine, voters overwhelmingly voted to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative.

In Virginia, voters rejected gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s anti-immigrant message and instead turned out in record numbers to support Ralph Northam, who won by nine points. The top issue that drove Virginians to the polls was health care. In total, nearly four in ten Virginia voters said health care was the issue that mattered most in voting for governor, and of those voters an overwhelming 78 percent chose Northam, who supports expanding Medicaid.

Kansas politicians and strategists understand that what happened in Maine and Virginia sends a clear message that health care and Medicaid expansion matters to voters and are winners at the polls.

As we prepare for the 2018 legislative session, Kansas legislators and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer have the opportunity to lead on Medicaid expansion and give voters an opportunity to reward them on Election Day like they did in Maine and Virginia.

In Kansas, expanding KanCare, our state’s Medicaid program, is wildly popular. The last three statewide polls each show that more than 75 percent of Kansas voters support expanding KanCare. In the latest poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), an overwhelming 66 percent of GOP voters in Kansas support the measure as well.

What is just as important to flag is that the ACS CAN poll in April showed extremely high levels of voter awareness and engagement on this issue. Since then, voters in Kansas have continued to organize around health care issues, visibly turning out for Sen. Jerry Moran’s town halls to urge him to protect Medicaid. Similarly, when Congressman Kevin Yoder used Facebook to poll constituents about Medicaid, thousands of Kansans urged him to protect the program and defend the state’s opportunity to expand it.

The historic 2016 legislative races in Kansas resulted in candidates who campaigned in support of KanCare expansion winning their races. Twenty-nine of the freshman legislators voted to expand KanCare, including 16 Republicans who won primaries.

The overwhelming support among Republican and Democratic legislators and among the voters led to KanCare expansion passing the Legislature with wide margins – 81-44 in the House and 25-14 in the state Senate. Unfortunately, just over one-third of legislators sided with Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of KanCare expansion. As legislators begin to prepare for next year’s election, they should remember that Tuesday’s election results prove Medicaid expansion is a top priority for voters and they will show up at the polls to vote for candidates who support it.

As Colyer prepares to become governor, he and legislators running for re-election will have a choice. They can decide to lead and work to expand Medicaid in a Kansas specific way, or they can ignore the fact that Kansans from around the state have been clear that this is a policy they overwhelmingly support.

Kansans understand that expanding KanCare is good policy. It is clear they are frustrated that the state has failed to return more than $2.2 billion of our own federal tax money by failing to expand eligibility for the program. The Legislature and the soon-to-be governor have the opportunity to side with voters and bring $1.9 million a day back to Kansas to create jobs, protect hospitals and local communities, and expand KanCare coverage to more than 150,000 voters.

Residents of Maine and Virginia showed they would vote on the side of expanding Medicaid. I expect Kansas voters will do the same.

David Jordan is the executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

 

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