I may not always have agreed with the policies of those past Republican leaders, but I never doubted that they were motivated by a determination to act in the best interests of our state and country. Today, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. With a few exceptions, the current crop of elected Kansas Republicans has chosen far right wing ideology and loyalty to Trumpism over the very real needs and interests of Kansas citizens. This choice is starkly reflected in their approach to health care and health insurance, especially given the presence of a pandemic that has caused suffering and devastating casualties across our country and the world.
The most publicized of their actions has been the obstinate resistance to Medicaid expansion among Republican legislative leadership—particularly in the Kansas Senate. This resistance has to-date cost Kansas taxpayers and businesses approximately $4 billion in forgone federal funding; has deprived tens of thousands of hard-working but low-income Kansans of the opportunity to obtain health insurance coverage; and has done untold, long-term damage to the survivability of rural hospitals in the state.
The Republican leadership's obstruction comes despite the fact that Medicaid Expansion is favored by a wide majority of Kansans—and even by a majority of both houses of the Kansas Legislature. Interestingly, in a statewide election earlier this month, the Oklahoma electorate approved Medicaid Expansion in that state—leaving Kansas as one of the few outliers still refusing to participate in the program.
Although the Medicaid expansion issue has received the most attention, an effort by Attorney General Derek Schmidt to have the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) thrown out would have broader and even more devastating consequences for Kansans. General Schmidt has joined with a number of other Republican attorneys general in filing a lawsuit seeking to have the ACA declared unconstitutional. The case is now before the United States Supreme Court.
I think we all realize that undermining and ultimately eliminating the ACA, because it was an achievement of the Obama Administration, has been a continuing objective of Trump. Who can forget the fictional Trump campaign promise to offer a simpler, less expensive, and universally available health insurance program? Such a pipe dream, of course, was never real and has never materialized. Instead, the ACA has been the target of unrelenting attack by the Trump administration and his minions, including Attorney General Schmidt. Trump and the Attorney General have chosen ideology (or perhaps simple jealousy) over the financial, emotional and physical health of literally millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Kansans.
What are the specific consequences to Kansans if Attorney General Schmidt and his colleagues prevail? First, of course, their efforts would deprive more than 100,000 Kansans of health insurance coverage that they have been or would be able to obtain under the ACA—but that is only the beginning.
Additionally, Attorney General Schmidt’s efforts would eliminate the possibility of Medicaid expansion. Tens of thousands of hard working, but low income, Kansans would be deprived of the opportunity to acquire health insurance through Medicaid. They and our state’s hospitals and businesses would continue to suffer without the possibility of legislative relief.
And there is much more. If the Attorney General prevails, protections for those having pre-existing health conditions would be taken away. The ACA prohibition against placing lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of coverage for essential health care benefits would be eliminated. There would no longer be a requirement that health plans extend coverage to dependent children up to the age of 26. Beyond that, a host of other health care benefits for individuals ranging from transparency requirements to limitations on eligibility waiting periods would also be lost.
I do not know what decision the Supreme Court may reach. I do know, however, that Attorney General Schmidt and others who recklessly seek repeal of the ACA have elevated loyalty to Trump and his agenda above the very real needs and interests of individual Kansans and Americans. They have departed from any path that elevates the common good above political ideology. In doing that, I believe they dishonor the tradition of their Kansas Republican predecessors and all those sensible representatives who prioritize listening and doing right by Kansans, rather than scoring political points. They should be called to account.
The people of Kansas deserve leaders who will represent their interests and work for them, rather than for themselves or their own partisan gain. This November's election will be yet another opportunity to bring this closer to a reality for the Kansans who need it most.