|Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback|
Photo Courtesy of the Topeka-Capital Journal
"Advocates for individuals with disabilities on Thursday rejected Gov. Sam Brownback’s argument that Kansas shouldn’t expand Medicaid because it prioritizes able-bodied adults before those with disabilities.
The Big Tent Coalition chided the governor and other opponents of expansion for invoking individuals with disabilities in arguing against increased eligibility for KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time and we expect Kansas policymakers to do the same,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. “We expect that they can focus on waiting list issues, reducing the waiting list while at the same time expanding Medicaid.”
Nichols said that while the coalition’s priority remains eliminating waiting lists for services for people with disabilities, it also supports Medicaid expansion.
In October, a Brownback aide invoked the governor’s moral opposition to expanding Medicaid while a wait list exists. Expanding KanCare could add more than 150,000 low-income Kansans to Medicaid.
“Medicaid Expansion creates new entitlements for able-bodied adults without dependents, prioritizing those who choose not to work before intellectually, developmentally, and physically disabled, the frail and elderly, and those struggling with mental health issues,” Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s deputy communications director, wrote in the October message. “This isn’t just bad policy, this is morally reprehensible.”
The coalition argues, however, that individuals with disabilities would benefit from Medicaid expansion. The group said many Kansans with disabilities aren’t currently eligible for a waiver for home- and community-based health services under Medicaid and are also uninsured — meaning they would potentially be covered by expanded Medicaid.
Expansion also would benefit direct support workers and personal care attendants who work with individuals with disabilities. The coalition said the shortage of workers is critical.
“Direct support staff and personal attendants are the backbone of the home and community services system,” the coalition said in a statement. “They deserve meaningful access to healthcare; access that will assist with recruiting and retaining workers.”
More than 30 states have adopted some form of Medicaid expansion. So far, conservative Republicans, along with the governor, have blocked consideration of increased eligibility for the program.
Expansion is unlikely to take place before elections in November. But some see potential movement after that.
Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, told a conference this month that evaluating expansion options and developing legislation would take at least 16 months.
“I think we need to explore it,” King told the gathering. “Saying no to everything is not the answer.”
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