Gov. Sam Brownback has vetoed legislation that would have expanded Medicaid to cover 150,000 low-income Kansans.

Brownback’s veto, which was announced Thursday morning on Twitter, had been highly anticipated and comes amid speculation that he will take a job in President Donald Trump’s administration.

“I am vetoing this expansion of ObamaCare because it fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs,” Brownback said in his veto message.

I vetoed Medicaid expansion. It does not prioritize the vulnerable. It does not #DefundPP. It isn’t responsible. It’s bad for Kansas. #ksleg pic.twitter.com/ydoooJK4fV

— Sam Brownback (@govsambrownback) March 30, 2017

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, enabled states to expand Medicaid, the program that provides health coverage to low-income families and disabled people, to cover people who make too much to qualify for the program but also make too little to buy health insurance on the federal health care exchange.

The Legislature’s passage of the expansion bill had received national attention both because Kansas is a solidly Republican-leaning state and because the state Senate’s vote took place shortly after congressional Republicans abandoned a plan that would have repealed the Affordable Care and blocked states from expanding Medicaid after March 1.

Sean Gatewood, spokesman for the KanCare Advocates Network, a group that represents disabled Medicaid beneficiaries, said that Brownback needs to stop using the disability community as an excuse to oppose Medicaid expansion.

“He needs to check the record. The disability community’s 100 percent behind this,” Gatewood said. “People are caught in that gap who have disabilities. They just don’t necessarily meet the Social Security guidelines. He’s completely off base.”

Amy Falk, CEO of Health Partnership Clinic, a safety net clinic network with locations in Johnson County, said that many of the people using her clinics work part time jobs and are not eligible for benefits through their employer. Other patients served by her clinics would have an easier time working if their health needs were addressed.

“We see time and time again, individuals who have chronic health conditions that, if they were managed, could be working, productive members of our community,” she said. “When you’re diabetic and your sugars aren’t right, you’re not going to work.”

She said Medicaid expansion would have enabled Health Partnership Clinic to serve more people.

Brownback targeted Planned Parenthood in his veto message. The women’s health care provider receives Medicaid reimbursement for birth control, cancer screenings and other services but not abortions as Brownback’s veto message implies.

“Most grievously, this legislation funnels more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. From its infancy, the state of Kansas has affirmed the dignity and equality of each human life. I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life,” Brownback said.

Brownback had previously criticized lawmakers for voting down an amendment that would have prohibited Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood.

Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a phone call that Brownback’s mention of the organization was a political ploy meant to deter members of his own party from voting for an override.

“We refuse to be the pawn in his game to suppress the well-being of so many Kansans who need Medicaid expansion today in order to live the lives that they’re meant to live and that he has promised them,” McQuade said.

The Kansas House kicked off a debate on overriding the veto shortly after Brownback’s announcement, but tabled the debate after an hour. That effectively pauses the legislation until a lawmaker moves to restart the debate.

Unless some lawmakers change their votes, expansion supporters are three votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto in the House and two votes shy in the Senate. Earlier in the session, Brownback vetoed a bill that would have rolled back his signature tax policies. An override passed in the House, but fell short in the Senate.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who has pushed for expansion for several years, rejected Brownback’s effort to tie the issue to abortion.

“It’s not an abortion bill despite some comments that I heard this morning,” she said. “That was out of left field. You talk about moving targets, there’s a new one for us.”

Kansas has missed out on nearly $1.8 billion in federal aid since 2014 by not expanding Medicaid. Expansion was fully funded by the federal government through 2016 and will gradually fall to 90 percent by 2020. The Kansas bill included a provision that would enable Kansas to undo expansion if federal funding dipped below the 90 percent threshold.

The closure of a hospital in Independence, Kan. in 2015 was largely blamed on the state’s failure to expand the program.

“If this isn’t the right time, when is the right time?” Concannon said Thursday. “Are we going to wait for some more hospitals to close? Are we going to wait until we have people die that can’t get insurance?”

Americansn For Prosperity, which has ties to Wichita-based Koch Industries and has helped lead opposition to Obamacare on a national level, applauded Brownback’s veto, contending that expansion would have cost more than anticipated.

“Looking at neighboring states, there is proof expanding Medicaid will only increase pressure on Kansas taxpayers to fund a program that will undoubtedly go over budget,” said Jeff Glendening, the state director for AFP, in a statement. “I hope legislators understand the gravity of this program and do not vote to override this veto. AFP will hold them accountable.”

Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, appeared to echo this point as the House debated whether to override the governor, reading off a list of states that he said went over budget after expanding Medicaid.

“We’ve got budget problems,” Whitmer said. “We just have to keep that in mind.”

Brownback signed a bill in 2014 requiring legislative approval before the state could expand Medicaid. The Legislature passed an expansion bill Tuesday with a bipartisan majority after Democrats and moderate Republicans made gain in the most recent election. Supporters pointed to the 2014 law and accused Brownback of hypocrisy for ignoring the Legislature’s will three years later.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he was “incredibly disappointed,” at the quick veto.

“They’re just cowards,” Ward said. “They’re doing it today in this expedited fashion so they don’t have to hear from the people of Kansas. They know they’re going to get emails and calls. Why do you think the governor expedited his veto? He didn’t want to hear from people who say ‘Don’t veto the bill.’ So he not only broke his word that it was a legislative decision, he did it in a way that the people of Kansas couldn’t weigh in.”

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(c)2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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