Medicaid expansion is Kansas’ most pressing moral priority

By Rev. Jenny Jackson | Jan. 27, 2020

The issue of access to affordable health care is of great concern for the faith community, in Kansas and nationally. Kansas Interfaith Action has been working on this issue since 2016, and we believe Medicaid expansion is long overdue. Medicaid expansion is Kansas’ most pressing moral priority, and SB 252 is the best way to move this policy forward.

We take this position based on our Scriptural and moral values. In Genesis it says, “[everyone] is created in the image of God;” we take from this that access to health care should be universal. In Matthew it says, “what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me,” from which we take that care should not be limited by ability to pay. The many denominations that make of KIFA have all strongly advocated both nationally and in states in support of expansion. We are in agreement that expansion is a moral necessity.

As clergy, we have people who come to our office in need of help and aid often, because they’ve lost their job, very often because of illness or injury that they were not able to receive care for.

Every day that Medicaid expansion is delayed people – working people in service or care industries, people with disabilities, real Kansans with real health needs – go without medical attention, and even die. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 288 Kansans aged 55-64 died between 2014 and 2017 due to the lack of expansion. Further, such deaths are preventable when we have the means available to help them. An ethic of life demands Medicaid expansion.

We believe that this agreement is a strong bill that will address concerns on all sides. We are concerned about premiums but we are willing to accept them in the spirit of compromise. We strongly urge lawmakers not to add amendments that would endanger the compromise. The work referral program in this bill is a more effective way of encouraging self-reliance than a punitive work requirement. Poor people need our help, not our contempt or punishment. The evidence shows that those who are eligible for expansion and can work are already working.

We would also oppose the addition of a so-called conscience exemption. As people of faith and conscience, we have seen these measures be used in a discriminatory way, particularly against the LGBT community. We believe caregivers’ religious convictions are best served in the conscientious fulfillment of their duties as healers.

Other supporters will speak about the economic reasons to expand Medicaid. My role here is to bring a moral voice. We support expansion because we are concerned for poor and working people, and we care for them because our Scriptures and our values tell us to do so. Expansion is as clear a moral imperative as there is in Kansas policy right now. It is long overdue. It is supported by the majority of Kansans, by the governor and by most of the legislature. It will extend access to people who — for no other reason that they are human beings, created, like all of us, in the image of God – deserve quality and affordable health care. It will “bring in from the cold” tens of thousands of Kansans who have previously been excluded from a human right: access to affordable, quality medical care.

I urge the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee to send SB 252, without amendment, to the full Senate. It is, when all is said and done, the right and moral thing to do.

Rev. Jenny Jackson is senior pastor of First Lutheran Church in Topeka and a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Central States Synod and Kansas Interfaith Action.