Marsha Cox worries about the well-being of waiters at restaurants and baggers at the grocery store.
She wants legislators who stood in the way of Medicaid expansion to look those low-wage, uninsured employees in the eye the next time they eat out or get groceries and explain the willingness to let them get sick and die.
Cox, of Topeka, took part in a demonstration Wednesday at the Statehouse to mourn the Legislature’s failure to pass Medicaid expansion before finishing work for the session.
Republican leadership blocked legislation that would extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 90,000 low-income adults and 40,000 children in Kansas, despite majority support in both the House and Senate.
A last-ditch attempt to force a vote on Medicaid expansion by holding the budget hostage fell apart Saturday as moderate Republicans grew concerned about retaliation from GOP leadership.
“We need to remember the people who died last year, the people who are going to die because just a few people decided to bully others,” Cox said. “We wouldn’t put up with bullying in schools or the workplace. Why do we put up with it in the Capitol building? I don’t understand that.”
Opponents to Medicaid expansion express concerns about the cost, which could be as much as $47 million in the first year, to the state budget. Some Republicans object to enlarging a flawed welfare program.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, promised to install a bipartisan interim committee that will produce a Medicaid expansion plan with input from expansion supporters. He also committed to allowing a Senate vote on the bill in January when the Legislature returns.
Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director for Kansas Interfaith Action, said the failure to consider legislation this year was a “moral outrage.” He expressed concern about work requirements and other policy items that could be attached to the forthcoming Medicaid expansion plan.
“They refused to have hearings this year,” Rieber said. “We could have had this conversation in January and February instead of just stopping it from happening, so I don't know what happens over the next little while. I know there's a lot of mischief that could be put into a good bill.”
Wednesday's protest was planned as a memorial service for a broken legislative process, Rieber said.
The 35 black-clad demonstrators formed a circle on the first floor of the Statehouse, taking turns stepping forward, placing flowers in a pile in the middle and expressing their sadness.
They mourned for loved ones who have died, for friends who are self-employed or have low-paying jobs and can't afford coverage, for hospitals that have closed or are in danger of closing, and for Kansans who have cancer and don't know it because they don't get annual screenings.
“I'm wondering how many more of us have to die before it's finally understood that health care for all is a right and not a privilege,” said Fallon Lewis, a Topeka resident who said he falls into the coverage gap because he works a low-income job that doesn't provide health insurance.
To qualify for KanCare, as Medicaid is known in Kansas, individuals currently must earn less than 38 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the cutoff is $9,785 in annual income. For a single adult, the amount is less than $5,000.
The Affordable Care Act allows states to extend coverage to those who earn up to 138 percent of the poverty level, which is $17,236 for an individual or $35,535 for a family of four.
Rieber pointed to research by Harvard University health economist Benjamin Sommers that determined one life can be saved annually for every 239 to 316 adults who gain health insurance. Based on the Kansas Health Institute projection that 90,176 adults would gain access if Medicaid were expanded in Kansas, Sommers' research means between 286 and 377 people will die in the next year without Medicaid expansion.
“They're people who are the working poor,” Cox said. “Those are the ones who are falling between the cracks here. And frankly, as a Republican, I want my money back. We give them all this money (as taxpayers), and they said we'd rather have Kansans die because they don't have health insurance.”
Sherman Smith, [email protected]