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Clear differences exist in Wichita House district when it comes to health care views

The starkly contrasting views they hold on the issue of Medicaid expansion is one of the more easily apparent dividing lines between the two candidates running for an open seat in House District 87, which represents east Wichita.

Susan Oliver Estes, a Republican and the wife of Congressman Ron Estes, says that, while she’s committed to affordable health care for all Kansans, Medicaid expansion is not the answer.

“Medicaid Expansion is an expensive new government program that will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually,” Estes says. It would be incredibly irresponsible to implement an expensive new program like this during an economic recession. Kansans are struggling to make ends meet and Medicaid expansion would necessitate a tax increase. Increasing taxes would be devastating to Kansas families and the Kansas economy.”

Instead, Estes says she backs policies that would empower consumers to make their own health care financing decisions, such as health savings account portability and billing transparency, as well increasing telemedicine. These approaches would lower costs and increase accessibility “without breaking the bank,” she says.

Her opponent, Democrat Matt Fox, a teacher and coach, didn’t respond to The Journal’s questionnaire about election issues. But his public statements elsewhere make clear his support for Medicaid expansion.

“As a teacher, I have watched my students’ families – our families – struggle to afford the healthcare they need,” Fox writes on Facebook. “I’ve seen their parents forced to make a difficult choice between healthcare and other bills paid. By expanding Medicaid, we will not only give 150,000 Kansans the care they deserve, but we will also bring 13,000 new jobs to our state. This is no longer a debate: we must expand Medicaid.”

House District 87 is open this election cycle because the current representative, Republican Renee Erickson, is seeking a seat in the Kansas Senate. It’s long been a reliably Republican seat, but in recent years it’s been trending bluer. Donald Trump won the presidential contest among voters by 11 percentage points here in 2016 but the district backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor in 2018 by about the same margin. No Democrat has won more than 39% of the vote in a House race here this past decade.

Here’s a look at how the candidates see key issues in this year’s elections based on answers they provided to questions from The Journal and publicly available information:

Kansas House District 87

Susan Oliver Estes (Republican)  and Matt Fox (Democrat)

Susan Oliver Estes

What are your views on Medicaid expansion and how would you like to see the Legislature resolve the debate over it?

I’m committed to affordable healthcare for all Kansans but that is not Medicaid Expansion. Medicaid Expansion is an expensive new government program that will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually. It would be incredibly irresponsible to implement an expensive new program like this during an economic recession. Kansans are struggling to make ends meet and Medicaid expansion would necessitate a tax increase. Increasing taxes would be devastating to Kansas families and the Kansas economy. Instead I support effective policies including HSA portability, billing transparency, and increased telemedicine that actually serve to lower costs and increase health care accessibility without breaking the bank.

What should government’s role be in facilitating economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there specific things you would like to see done or not done?

Rebuilding our economy and creating jobs is crucial at this time. There is no one silver bullet to accomplish these tasks and instead we have to take a broad view in order to create an overall climate that is conducive to new industry and job creation. Wichita has a uniquely skilled workforce and we must build upon this foundation by continually developing those skills and replenishing the pipeline of skilled workers that are attractive to the business community. Additionally, it’s important that we have a favorable tax climate, low regulatory burdens, and affordable utility rates to make Kansas an appealing destination for employers.

The pandemic further exposed a lack of broadband access in parts of the state and other divides in access to Internet service. What do you think should be done?

Broadband will play an important role in the future of our economy. Over $50 million of the federal CARES Act funding is being used to expand broadband in Kansas. This will significantly improve broadband access across the state. Moving forward the state can facilitate the expansion of broadband by helping to remove regulatory and logistical hurdles that slow broadband expansion.

What key lessons would like to see Kansans take away from the pandemic and the response to it? Do you see the need for changes as a result of what’s happened?

We can never underestimate the importance of human interaction and connection. There are many lessons we can learn about re-tooling our emergency response statutes and how to safely open businesses during a pandemic but beyond that we’ve seen the limitations of online connections. Students need to be in the classroom, our seniors need to interact with their family members, and all of us need to be involved in our communities. My hope is that we can take the lessons learned from this time to strengthen our social interactions and community involvement as we move forward. 

How should legislators respond to the events of this summer (such as the prison outbreaks of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and concerns about preserving law and order) in shaping the state’s criminal justice system for the future? 

As I’ve watched the national debate over law enforcement I’ve been increasingly thankful for our Wichita Police Department. The Wichita PD has been a leader in banning unsafe practices; those policies need to be adopted statewide. It’s also important that we properly fund our law enforcement and provide them with the proper training to prepare for the many situations they encounter.

Further, to improve upon our criminal justice system we must address the mental health issue. So many inmates suffer from mental health issues and have never received the proper treatment. A proactive approach that includes a statewide implementation of the Wichita Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOTs), mental health courts and the San Antonio Project approach being used by the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition will get individuals on the proper treatment track early in life, meaning many of them will never end up in the prison system. For those already in the system, proper treatment can help turn their lives around and reduce recidivism. 

Matt Fox

The Journal did not receive answers to its questions from Matt Fox. Below is a summary of his views based on publicly available data.

Background:

From his website:

Matt Fox is a teacher, a wrestling coach, and a union member serving on his regional leadership board for the KNEA. A born-and-raised Kansan, he is striving to better our community further by running for Wichita’s 87th District seat in the Kansas State House of Representatives.

Kansas invested in Matt’s education as a child. Now, as a teacher, he spends his days working in his own childhood classrooms in Marvin Sisk Middle School to return that investment to today’s youth. A social studies teacher, he emboldens his students to advocate for themselves, ask questions, and find their own voices.

After graduating from Douglass High School, Matt attended Cowley County Community College and Emporia State University for his Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education; he later attained his Master’s in Education from Baker University.

An experienced negotiator, Matt works persistently to promote the development and inclusion of advanced policies to enrich the lives of his students and fellow educators. As a candidate, he now seeks to do the same for the 87th District.

In June of 2019, Matt married Makayla Alderson Fox, an executive assistant, academic, and community organizer; they live in Wichita, where they prioritize community involvement by engaging with diverse voices and volunteering with a variety of organizations.

Views on Medicaid expansion:

On his Facebook page, Fox indicates he supporters Medicaid expansion:

“As a teacher, I have watched my students’ families – our families – struggle to afford the healthcare they need. I’ve seen their parents forced to make a difficult choice between healthcare and other bills paid. By expanding Medicaid, we will not only give 150,000 Kansans the care they deserve, but we will also bring 13,000 new jobs to our state. This is no longer a debate: we must expand Medicaid.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

In response to questions from Women for Kansas, Fox said:

To begin to repair Kansas’ economy we have to tackle the pandemic first. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should guide us on reopening the state and schools.

Views on racial and criminal justice:

In response to questions from Women for Kansas, Fox said:

“We must combat racism in all forms. I support Governor Kelly’s racial justice task force and look forward to supporting their recommendations to make Kansas a more just state.”

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