Three moderate Republicans who support Medicaid expansion have been removed from a Kansas House committee that oversees health care issues, including Rep. Don Hill. Hill's statement appears below.
The move is the latest in the fight over whether the state should extend the health care program for those with disabilities or low incomes under the Affordable Care Act.
“Kansans oppose expanding Obamacare, a program that has busted budget after budget in states that have expanded it,” House Speaker Ray Merrick said in a statement.
Jim McLean of the KHI News Service reports that Merrick hasn’t yet said why he removed the law makers, but Rep. Jim Ward, the ranking democrat in the house, says it was because all three favored expanding Kansas’ medicaid program to cover more poor adults.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.”
Lyon County Democrat Party Treasurer William Ballard states: “Rep. Ward believes the move is an attempt to prevent a vote in the committee on Medicaid Expansion.”
The lawmakers removed from the health committee were Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, a retired physician; Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican and the vice chair, who has a background in rural health; and Rep. Don Hill, an Emporia Republican and a pharmacist.
“I’m deeply saddened for the state that three of the most knowledgeable people on health care issues are being removed from all of the policymaking decisions … on one issue,” Bollier said.
Kansas is one of 20 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
“I am disappointed for the State of Kansas and people in the healthcare industry. Those three people were very knowledgeable,” said Emporia Senator Jeff Longbine. “That committee handles many other issues than Medicaid expansion and their knowledge was good for the state.”
Merrick, who makes House committee assignments, also moved moderates off key committees dealing with the budget and education Wednesday.
He said the changes were “in the best interests of our caucus and state.”
Opponents of expansion, including Gov. Sam Brownback, cite concern over costs and skepticism about a federal pledge to pay for most of any expansion. Supporters, including the Kansas Hospital Association, say the state is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
The push to expand Medicaid seemed to gather a little steam earlier this fall as the Mercy Hospital system closed its Independence, Kan., hospital in part because of the lack of Medicaid expansion. Some lawmakers talked about finding a solution similar to those used by other Republican-leaning states such as Indiana and Arkansas.
The Health and Human Services Committee is the most likely panel in the House to consider any Medicaid bills.
New members on the committee are Reps. Willie Dove, a Bonner Springs Republican; Brett Hildabrand, a Shawnee Republican; and John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican who has experience working for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The chair of the committee, Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said he had not been informed of the changes ahead of the decision.
“I would say the speaker probably has his reasons, but I wasn’t a part of that,” Hawkins said. “… I’m not going to second-guess that.”
Concannon said she found out she had been reassigned to the General Government Budget Committee after returning home from Beloit’s Veterans Day parade.
“I’m devastated,” said Concannon, who previously ran a foundation aimed at improving rural health care. “I haven’t done anything to undermine the chairman. I haven’t done anything to undermine the speaker. I just voiced my opinion on the issue.”
Hill and Bollier have both been moved to the elections committee.
“I’ll tell you what they have in common — their no vote on Medicaid expansion,” said Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who contended that expansion had a strong chance of passing out of the committee otherwise.
Hill was also removed from the House Appropriations Committee, where he has been an outspoken opponent of the governor’s budget and tax policies. He noted that reassignments like this are unusual when the House is in the middle of a term.
Moderates Rep. Diana Dierks, a Salina Republican, and Rep. John Ewy, a Jetmore Republican, were reassigned from the House Education Committee to the elections and transportation committees. Dierks blamed this on their opposition to conservative reforms to education.
“They’re taking key people and putting us on committees where we can’t, as they say, stir the pot,” Dierks said. “But trust me … my voice will be heard.”
Statement from Don Hill:
The Kansas legislature has a multitude of aspects. It is about place, policy, politics, personalities and, yes, power and pressure. The recent committee reassignments reflect some of all these aspects.
It is only a matter of hours since these changes were announced and I am still assessing and seeking to understand the action and consequences. During the last several weeks as rumors and speculation were circulating, I suspected I might be removed from the Appropriations Committee. I was one of only two Republicans on the committee who had voted against the tax reduction package in 2012. I have been consistently skeptical about the tax policy and have reached the conclusion that the 2012 package is indeed causing far more risk and harm than reward and benefit.
As the Appropriations Committee begins work next session on what will be an extraordinarily difficult budget-cutting task, the last thing the Speaker and Chairman need is Representative Peck harping on how anemic the budget cutting effort has been and Representative Hill raising questions about the short sightedness of cutting investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, public safety and children. This may explain why Peck and Hill will have a different committee on which to serve.
The shakeup on the Health Committee is far more perplexing. The committee lost the four members who had the most actual real life health care experience. Susan Concannon was the vice chair of the Committee. Her husband is a physician in Beloit. Susan has served as the CEO of the Hospital Foundation at her local hospital. She is a regional legislative leader in health policy and currently serves as the Health Chairman of the Mid West region of the Conference of State Legislators. Susan is a recognized expert on the unique challenges of rural health care.
Dr. Barbara Bollier is a long time member of the committee. She is a physician who specialized in anesthesiology. Barbara is an expert on medical ethics and women’s health among many other areas. She is active at the national level with legislative peers and is a national leader in the arena of gun safety and gun violence prevention.
Barbara and Susan have been the only two women on the Health Committee. After the Speaker’s reassignments there will be no women on the committee.
Representative Kevin Jones has also been removed from the committee. Kevin has training and background in the health care area. He has training as an EMT and first responder and has experience in that area.
Myself, Concannon and Jones all represent rural areas and critical access hospitals. All of the replacement members are from urban areas. It is important to have breadth and balance on all committees to achieve the best opportunity for good policy.
The Speaker and Committee Chairman successfully stifled debate and possible action on KanCare expansion in the 2015 session. The Governor continues to oppose KanCare expansion. Speaker Merrick has apparently acknowledged the committee changes were related to differences on Medicaid policy.
The extreme action of removing four members of the Health Committee (all except Jones have been vocal advocates of expansion) ignores the reality that expansion is only a small part of what the health committee is charged to lead the state on.
The replacements on the committee are fine and honorable men. In my opinion, however, the committee is significantly and unnecessarily diminished.
More to follow.
—Representative Don Hill