Group rallying for Medicaid expansion in Kansas

David Burke

8/25/2021

A retired United Methodist pastor and a retired social worker are seeking to rally people from across Kansas to help support Medicaid expansion in the state. 

Rev. Jack Gregory and Cathy Matlack, both members of the Lenexa St. Paul’s UMC peace and justice committee, have founded Faith Voices for Medicaid Expansion, which is working with groups such as Kansas Interfaith Action, the Kansas-based Voter Network, and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund to promote passage of the extension. 

This graphic from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the states that have approved Medicaid expansion as of Aug. 10. Graphic courtesy KFF

Initially, “we thought it would be good to inform people at St. Paul’s about the facts surrounding Medicaid expansion,” Matlack said, “not just the health care it would provide for 165,000 Kansans, but also the economic benefits for rural hospitals and communities and the jobs it provides.” 

After enthusiastic response from their own church, they thought, “we really need to do this beyond St. Paul’s,” Gregory said.  

“We need people in rural Kansas and all over the state to be more informed and talking to their elected representatives,” he added. 

The first of monthly Zoom teleconferences is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT Thursday, Oct. 21. Those interested in being a part of them can contact Gregory via email at jmdgregory@gmail.com or Matlack at cjmatlack@gmail.com

The Zoom sessions will lead up to the Kansas Legislature convening in January. 

Surveys, the two said, have shown that 64% of Kansans support Medicaid expansion. It has already taken place in 38 states, including all the states that border with Kansas. 

States such as Nebraska and Missouri have had ballot initiatives that approved Medicaid expansion, Matlack said, but Kansas cannot constitutionally call for a ballot initiative on the issue. 

“We have to convince people this is something important enough that it ought to be brought up for a vote (in the legislature),” she said. 

Rev. Jack Gregory

Although Gregory and Matlack are United Methodists and have connections throughout the state, they said other denominations are welcome and necessary to help with the drive. 

“We’re hoping to make this an ecumenical project so officials can hear more voices from the faith community,” Gregory said. 

Matlack, who worked mainly in the health care field as a social worker, said those most in need of Medicaid expansion aren’t pushing for it. 

“This to me is a social justice issue and one that those who need the service aren’t sometimes equipped to be strong advocates,” she said. “They aren’t always the voices we hear.” 

Matlack and Gregory said they expect a lot of pushback from legislators. 

“It’s become a political issue,” Matlack said. “Those who are not in favor of the passage have several concerns, one that it’s a step into ‘socialized medicine.’” 

None of the states that have enacted it have reneged, she added. Some states tried to add an employment requirement, but eventually dropped it. 

“There’s good research about the benefits and less medical debt people have occurred in states that have expanded Medicaid,” she said. “We need to meet those concerns and talk about them as we can.” 

Cathy Matlack

Medicaid expansion helps the Kansas economy, Matlack added. At least five rural Kansas hospitals have closed during the past year, she said, and more than 70% are facing significant challenges. 

“Regardless of your politics, delivering health care to these communities is something that can be greatly enhanced by Medicaid expansion,” she said. 

Many churches already have food ministries — whether their own food pantries or collecting for those in the community — Matlack said. 

“If we cared about feeding low-income folks, their health needs are a close second or a tie to that,” she said. “If we want people to be healthy and vital and active in our communities, health care is every bit as important as food.” 

Gregory said Christians of all denominations should support the expansion. 

“Jesus gave us a mandate to love one another, and the form that takes in our society is to care for the most vulnerable,” he said. “To make sure that we are not leaving people by the roadside who are needing care and can’t afford it. I think it’s part of what we are called to do as followers of Jesus and people of faith.”

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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