Kansas Lawmakers At Olathe Town Hall Meeting Draw Boos Over Unwillingness To Expand Medicaid

Apr 2, 2017

From the front row to the standing-room area in the back, many people at the Olathe Town Hall came to express support for Medicaid expansion.
Credit Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3

About two hundred people on Saturday attended a town hall event in Olathe where they questioned nine Republican lawmakers about their positions on Medicaid expansion and school financing.

Many held placards expressing support for more Medicaid funding. All of the lawmakers present were opposed to expanding the program and agreed with Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to veto an expansion bill passed overwhelmingly last month by the Legislature.

The audience waited patiently through 45 minutes of the politicians’ opening remarks before the moderator, Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland, read out the first question. It turned out to be the only question he selected during the meeting that directly addressed Medicaid expansion and it received loud applause from the gathering.

Members of Stand Up Blue Valley, a group that supports the Blue Valley school district, were in attendance, seeking to ensure elected officials adequately fund their school district.
Credit Danny Wood/KCUR 89-3

“Will you vote to override the governor’s veto?” was the question. 

Rep. Randy Powell answered first. He said he was against expansion, drawing boos from some members of the audience and vigorous waving of signs and placards.

“If you’re wanting to help those who are truly needing the services currently in Medicaid, expanding Medicaid would literally push them to the back,” Powell said.

None of the lawmakers showed a willingness to change their position. Instead, they said their focus was on coming up with a school finance formula, agreeing on a budget and adjusting tax policy.

Rep. John Resman said the state can't afford expanding Medicaid. "Can we afford it and right now?  We can’t," he said.

Rep. Keith Esau suggested he might consider changing his mind if all the funding came from the federal government.

"Even that isn’t fair,"  Esau added. "Because it just lowers the economy to print money to fund things like that.”

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said he supported Brownback’s veto because the Medicaid expansion bill did not comply with the Affordable Care Act, although it was not entirely clear what he meant.

“The Kansas Medicaid plan that came across the House floor didn’t expand it under those sections,” Denning said.

But Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project in Kansas, said one of the sections the senator talked about isn’t even in the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t think many of these legislators are really listening. Most of the information that they had is just flat out false,” Weisgrau said.

The lawmakers were also in no rush to come up with a school funding plan. House Speaker Ron Ryckman

The nine Republican lawmakers at the Town Hall meeting all opposed the expansion of Medicaid in Kansas.
Credit Danny Wood/KCUR 89-3

said the school finance formula developed by the House K-12 Education Budget Committee was slated for more changes.

“Yes, I believe it will be admitted and changed. That was just the first draft that came out,”  Ryckman said.

Senate Education Committee Chair Molly Baumgardner said if the education bill is passed by the House this week, she’s planning to use the three-week recess to revise it.

“So we intend to make sure that those outcomes in the funding formula will meet what the Supreme Court is asking for,” Baumgardner said, referring to the state Supreme Court, which has directed lawmakers to craft a new plan by June.

Many of those at the meeting, like Olathe resident Robin Andracsek, were  disappointed by the answers from their lawmakers.

“I will pay more in taxes to support the schools and to support the services that people need,” Andracsek said.

“I don’t think that they were listening to us. They came here with closed minds and they left with closed minds," she added.

It’s the final week of the Kansas legislative session and the fates of both Medicaid expansion and school financing are on the line.

Danny Wood is a freelance reporter for KCUR.