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Kansas Poor People’s Campaign demands Medicaid expansion

By Charles Carney

Dennis Russell said he gave his right eye so rich people in Kansas could become a little richer. On the night of Sept. 29, when 55 persons, including four PeaceWorks-KC leaders, marched for expanded Medicaid in Kansas, the 60-year-old Russell spoke truth to power. Dennis explained how he could not get the glaucoma in his right eye treated for years because he did not have health insurance. Now that he has recently obtained Kansas Medicaid, his eye doctor is telling him it is too late to repair the sight in his right eye, and he will probably never see again out of that eye.

Dennis was one of many speakers at the march and rally in Kansas City, KS, organized by the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign. Kansas is surrounded by states that have expanded their Medicaid programs—Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The Kansas House has passed expanded Medicaid twice, but Senate President Susan Wagle and Gene Suellentrop, chair of the Public Health and Welfare Committee and of the Select Committee on Healthcare Access, refuse to let the bill leave committee and go to the full Senate for a vote. The bill has broad bipartisan support.

At the Sept. 29 rally and march, Michelle Criswell, of the St. Lawrence Catholic Worker House in KC KS, talked about how she needlessly suffered from undiagnosed fibromyalgia due to not having health insurance. “There were some days that it was so painful, I just asked my Creator to take me,” said Michelle. “Expanding Medicaid in Kansas seems like such a ‘no-brainer.’ I love Kansas but it bothers me that we are one of the 12 backward states that is too idiotic to help its own citizens!”

Ginger Ferguson’s anxiety and PTSD flared up so badly that she was not able to participate in the march.  However, a stand-in (PeaceWorks Board Member Kristin Scheer) read her statement, explaining that she lost her health insurance just when she needed it the most—right as the COVID-19 pandemic began in March. “It shouldn’t be this hard,” stated Ferguson, age 60. “I started paying into this system when I was 14. It wouldn’t be so insane if we simply had Medicare for All, like every other developed nation in the world.”

I called for more “affordable, evidence-based, trauma-informed solutions” for people in addiction recovery. “Kansas cannot incarcerate its way out of its addiction crisis,” I stated, adding that expanding Kansas Medicaid would save thousands of lives, rescue rural hospitals, and boost the Kansas economy.

Chris Overfelt, of the PeaceWorks-KC Board, marched with his Veterans for Peace flag and chanted slogans such as, “We are a new unsettling force, and we are powerful,” and “Somebody’s hurting my people, and I won’t be silent anymore.”

Kathy Downing, a leader in the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, spoke from a spot just outside the University of Kansas Health Systems, at 42nd and Rainbow. Downing outlined the gross disparities in child mortality between Wyandotte and Johnson counties. She explained that in states where Medicaid has already been expanded, such gross disparities are greatly reduced.

Jalisa Davis of Miller Dream (a community organization) advocated for children. “The health care system continues to be detrimental to us as a nation. Our children have suffered extensive trauma and are being asked to function normally in a system where they haven’t been shown value.”

PeaceWorks-KC Board member and long-time nurse Ann Suellentrop spoke up for more prevention and early intervention. “We need health coverage for everyone, because the sooner health problems are discovered, the better for the patient. For example, if a person with diabetes can find out early on and get it under control, they will be able to prevent amputations, losing kidney function, or going blind. And that will save a lot of money.”

Claire Chadwick, one of the driving forces in the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, is also an essential worker. “I need more than a Facebook post telling me how great my sacrifice is,” Claire stated. “I need living wages, paid sick and leave time, a union, and universal health care that isn’t tied to my job.”

Author’s note: The Kansas Poor People’s Campaign would like to thank PeaceWorks-KC for a recent donation of $500. Such donations help us carry out local rallies and marches, as well as testimonies and actions in Topeka and throughout Kansas.

—Charles Carney, treasurer of the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, serves on the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors.

Man hanging origame peace cranes.