TOPEKA, Kansas — The four Catholic dioceses in Kansas will not support expanding Medicaid to thousands more low-income adults and children unless the state passes a constitutional amendment and new laws restricting abortion, the head of the Kansas Catholic Conference said.
Chuck Weber, the group’s executive director, told a joint House and Senate committee on Wednesday that the dioceses in Dodge City, Salina, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, want an amendment to the state constitution to clarify that it does not include a right to abortion, in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling last year that the constitution protects that right. The dioceses also are seeking a law allowing medical professionals or health facilities to decline to perform certain procedures for religious reasons, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Hundreds of thousands of Kansans are members of the Catholic church and, on social issues, it is influential with conservative Republicans, who hold the top leadership positions in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Weber’s statements came as the committee ended two days of hearings on expanding Medicaid to 130,000 low-income adults and children in Kansas. Medicaid currently covers about 342,000 low-income, elderly and disabled Kansas residents.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican who chairs the committee, said Wednesday that the panel won’t advance a bill on Medicaid expansion to this year’s Legislature and won’t recommend passage of a bill. The committee’s decision to not advance a bill is not binding and lawmakers are still expected to take up Medicaid expansion in this year’s session.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has made Medicaid expansion one of her top priorities for the upcoming session. Her Republican predecessors, Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer, successfully blocked expansion by the GOP-led Legislature. During last year’s legislative session, the House passed an expansion bill that was not acted on by the Senate. A special Senate committee in October endorsed an alternative developed by Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park.
The committee did approve a motion by Rep. Will Carpenter, R-El Dorado, that would prohibit Medicaid expansion from broadening access to abortion and would allow health care providers to refuse to provide patient care, such as birth control, based on the providers’ personal beliefs.
“You don’t care about religious beliefs of patients?” said Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Democrat running for the U.S. Senate.
“I’m not concerned with that,” Carpenter said.
Lee Norman, a physician and secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said a religious exemption in Kansas could be “perilous” and that placing ethical boundaries on Medicaid could make it difficult to attract health care providers.
The joint committee also voted to add a requirement that Medicaid applicants who are able must work at least 20 hours per week or enroll in 12 credit hours of college courses to be eligible. The federal government has approved work mandates for other states but all have been blocked by the courts.
April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Health Kansas — the state’s largest coalition supporting Medicaid expansion — said the House bill and Senate committee proposal required low-wage people signing up under Kansas’ expanded Medicaid system to pay monthly insurance premiums that could be difficult to afford. She also questioned a provision in the House bill that permanently locks out of Medicaid any person who misses three premium payments and the Senate committee’s preference to lock people out for six months if a premium payment was missed.
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