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Health care views a dividing line in race for western Johnson County Senate seat

The two candidates hoping to replace longtime legislator Julia Lynn in Kansas Senate offer very different takes on what should be done health care in Kansas.

Beverly Gossage, a Republican, believes that the state’s goal “should be to ensure that all Kansans have access to an affordable, private, portable, personalizez health insurance plan where they only pay for the features they want.” She opposes Medicaid expansion, saying that the program should be preserved for “the disabled and low income seniors, families, pregnant women and children,” and it would force some people off private plans and onto government-financed health insurance.

For Stacey Knoell, a Democrat, expanding Medicaid is her top priority, followed by “protecting the public education system and women’s reproductive rights.”

“I believe the Legislature should expand Medicaid,” she wrote in response to questions from The Journal. “It has come close to passing several times and is held up by politics, not by the will of the people. The 2020 Legislative session showed that both sides could reach a compromise to get it passed, and it would have passed but for political wrangling.”

The district encompasses much of western Johnson County, including DeSoto and parts of Gardner, Lenexa and Olathe. Lynn has held the seat since 2006 and never won with fewer than 54% of the vote. The district overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 but backed Democrat Laura Kelly 50%-42% for governor in 2016.

Lynn was set to run for re-election but had her name removed from the ballot in September. She cited the need to care for her sister during a medical hardship. Gossage was appointed by county Republican representatives to take carry the GOP banner in November.

Here’s a look at how the two candidates vying for the seat answered several questions from The Journal about key issues in this year’s elections:

Kansas Senate District 9

Beverly Gossage (Republican) and Stacey Knoell  (Democrat)

Beverly Gossage

Beverly Gossage Kansas Senate

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am Beverly Gossage, a wife and mother of four. I’m a former classroom teacher who created Gossage Real Estate to have more time with our young children. As they started school, I realized my youngest son was dyslexic so I home schooled him. Later, I wanted to help others’ children who were struggling like my Adam, so I became the Sylvan Learning Center District Manager. One day my mother asked for help with the health insurance plan for the family’s plumbing company. Helping small businesses, families, individuals, and seniors find affordable coverage became my new mission. Then when I saw that the laws coming from DC and Topeka that were designed to help people were actually hurting them, I began to help to craft bills and testify before committees in DC and Topeka. A few weeks ago when Sen. Lynn was forced to remove herself from the ballot, the precinct committeemen and women elected me to take her place on the ballot. I am honored to be the Republican candidate for State Senator for District 9. 

If elected this fall, what would be your top priority while in office?

Truthfully, I never needed a title to make a difference and, as such, I had no aspirations to be in office. Therefore, I would not walk into the capital with an agenda. However, as a concerned Kansan, I know there will be tough decisions to be made to balance the budget and I want to do so without raising taxes on hardworking Kansans. I also hope that we can pass a bill that I helped introduce in committee last year which would allow short term medical plan buyers to choose to allow their plan to renew up to three years as permitted by the Trump administration rather than the current 12 months. Small issue to some people but important to those who buy in that market. Passage doesn’t raise your taxes nor spend any taxpayer dollars. Just gives people more choices. Win Win. 

These are tough times. Kansans will likely need elected officials willing to lead on a number of difficult challenges. As an office holder, how will you work in service of helping us navigate this period of distress and strengthen our communities, state and nation for the long term? Please share your thoughts in a few sentences.

That’s a vague question. As senator, I would review any issue, breakdown the problem, listen to experts and ascertain if a private, free enterprise, local solution would be possible for I believe that the best decisions are made on a local level. Kansans are smart people and sometimes educating them of their options is enough and blanket mandates are unnecessary.
What’s the biggest problem in health care right now?

The very term is confusing. There is medical care and health insurance. Often government regulation makes access to both too expensive with narrow networks and a lack of personalizing a plan and giving the patient control. 

How do you feel about the current level of government involvement in health care?

It’s too involved

What should the future of health care be in your view? Would you prioritize making it more affordable, more accessible, or something else? To what extent should the government be involved, and should it be doing the same, less or more than it is now?Please explain your views in a few sentences.

I have spent the last 17 years finding health insurance coverage that fits Kansans’ budgets. This experience has taught me that our goal should be to ensure that all Kansans have access to an affordable, private, portable, personalized health insurance plan where they only pay for features that they want. I have testified in both DC and in Topeka on bills that would remove barriers to that goal. To further reach that goal we should allow employers and employees a ramp off of group health insurance by encouraging our federal legislators to pass HSA reform so that all Americans can have an account from which they can pay for their insurance plan and employers can contribute to that account. I helped craft that bill with Sen Ted Cruz. 

How should the Legislature resolve the ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion?

It should not pass Medicaid expansion.

In a few sentences, please explain your thinking on how the Legislature should resolve the Medicaid Expansion debate and your views on the issue.

I have testified in Topeka on this very issue. Medicaid should be preserved for those for whom it was intended, the disabled and low income seniors, families, pregnant women and children. Medicaid expansion forces people off private plans and onto Medicaid. For example, currently, under the ACA, Kansans who make at the poverty level (about $12,500 annually or 30 hrs a week at minimum wage) up to 138% of the poverty level not only receive a premium tax credit but also a reduction in their total out-of-pocket. I help people sign up for these plans. This population can purchase a plan at zero premium up to $30 weekly for a cadillac style, private plan. If Medicaid were expanded, these some 30,000 people would be forced off their plan and placed on Medicaid, and forced to find a provider who accepts Medicaid. They crowd out services for those currently on Medicaid. Those who want to expand Medicaid continually state that over 100,000 Kansans would get coverage with expansion, but these figures include people who are already insured including children who are currently eligible for Medicaid but are on private plans. There is talk of rural hospitals being saved with expansion, but reality shows that hospitals in expansion states fare no better than nonexpansion states. It should also be highlighted that expansion states have seen budget overruns which Kansas can ill afford in our current budget crisis. 

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?

Local government can decide how to address allowing businesses to reopen. This should not be the role of the state. However, the state can review regulations that are barriers to business recovery. Economic Development is not more government programs and regulations, but it should begin with a stable/predictable/simple tax policy that benefits both small and large businesses and families. High taxes and uncertainty create population loss. It should ensure that communities have security and stability to grow to give access to needed services like medical care, food, affordable housing, jobs and education. It should be transparent and easy to understand. 

What would you prioritize when dealing with shortfalls in revenues that fund state services? What would you do about taxes? How would you deal with the state budget’s funding for K-12 education?

a) I believe you are asking about budget issues: State budgets are often “balanced” by shifting dollars from agencies and delaying payments to other programs, like KPERS. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. I served on the KS Board of Indigent Defense Services where we reviewed the budget annually. We need to look at the budget line-by-line and assess if our dollars are spent wisely and where cuts could be made. I would recommend we consider a Zero Based Budgeting approach where managers are required to justify all budgeted expenses, not just the changes in the budget of the previous year. The baseline would be zero, not last year’s budget, protecting taxpayers, and local governments. b) Tax policy: This past session the Senate passed a fair and transparent policy to address the tax burden in Kansas. Unfortunately it was vetoed, returning Kansans back to a high tax environment. Today, in the days of the pandemic, it is even more vital to keep taxes down or at least steady for all Kansans. As senator, I will pursue every avenue for a fair tax policy rather than raising taxes on hard working Kansas families and businesses. c) Education funding: As a former classroom educator, I know the struggles of teachers trying to stretch supplies for their students, while observing waste and top heavy salaries in the administration. I questioned how the funds were used and if the taxpayer investment translated to actual improvements in student outcomes. Recently the Senate voted to end the decades long litigation on education funding by passing $1.5B in funding to our schools. We must hold school boards receiving these funds accountable for verifiable, targeted outcomes. 

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?

Regarding broadband, I will admit that broadband is not offered where I live in rural Johnson County, but I do not expect others to pay for it to come to me. I am generally not a fan of private/public programs but am open to reviewing the infrastructure partnership for the rural communities as an economic development initiative as well as in under-served areas of Johnson County. 

How would you evaluate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas thus far?

Again, I believe that most decisions should be made locally. When it comes to COVID, the state’s role should be to educate Kansans and local leaders about the risks based on scientific data from a broad group of medical experts. Then permit local leaders and Kansas to make decisions about their health and safety. 

Should the COVID-19 pandemic continue into 2021, what would your top priority be?

Keep the economy going but continuing to educate Kansans on ways to curb the spread of the virus. 

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 need to advise people on how to stay safe while being careful not to overreact and close businesses. Over 100,000 restaurants closed with no hope of reopening. My family’s company has laid off employees for the first time in over 48 years. States with more lenient reactions who kept the economy open had similar results from COVID spread. 

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? 

Legislators should back our law enforcement officers who keep the peace and arrest lawbreakers as well as our local prosecuting attorneys who prosecute those breaking our laws and destroying property to detour that behavior while allowing peaceful protests. 

Stacey Knoell

Stacey Knoell

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am Stacey Knoell and I am running for the Kansas State Senate in District 9. I’m a Midwest gal, raised in Iowa and my family’s roots in Kansas go back to the 1870s. I am running for the Kansas Senate because it is my turn to step into the flow of history and work to make this country, this state, a better place for my children to live and grow.

If elected this fall, what would be your top priority while in office?

The top priority would be expanding Medicaid followed by protecting the public education system and women’s reproductive rights. However, coming out of COVID, I think a repeal of food sales tax will also be a priority. 

These are tough times. Kansans will likely need elected officials willing to lead on a number of difficult challenges. As an office holder, how will you work in service of helping us navigate this period of distress and strengthen our communities, state and nation for the long term?Please share your thoughts in a few sentences.

I have always approached this as an opportunity to legislate from a standpoint of compassion on people whatever circumstance they are in. It will be imperative to listen to people share what they are going through. At the State level, we do have the chance to positively impact people’s lives and I seek to be a voice for people who cannot be there to speak for themselves.

What’s the biggest problem in health care right now?

It’s so complicated that it’s hard to pick one answer.

How do you feel about the current level of government involvement in health care?

I believe it is time we in Kansas expanded Medicaid. 

What should the future of health care be in your view? Would you prioritize making it more affordable, more accessible, or something else? To what extent should the government be involved, and should it be doing the same, less or more than it is now?Please explain your views in a few sentences.

I believe it is time for the Kansas Legislature to expand Medicaid in this state to provide for both accessibility and affordability.

How should the Legislature resolve the ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion?

It should pass Medicaid expansion.

In a few sentences, please explain your thinking on how the Legislature should resolve the Medicaid Expansion debate and your views on the issue.

I believe the Legislature should expand Medicaid. It has come close to passing several times and is held up by politics, not by the will of the people. The 2020 Legislative session showed that both sides could reach a compromise to get it passed, and it would have passed but for political wrangling

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?

One thing that can provide immediate relief would be to repeal the food sales tax. Such a tax break would impact people right where they live.

What would you prioritize when dealing with shortfalls in revenues that fund state services? What would you do about taxes? How would you deal with the state budget’s funding for K-12 education?

There is room to look at the tax structure. I am in favor of closing loopholes for the top tax brackets so that the tax burden does not fall on the middle and lower incomes. I do think we will need to look at alternative means of revenue, perhaps legalizing medical cannabis. 

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?

The pandemic showed the need for the state to make it a priority to invest in a robust broadband system. Such an investment would help rural areas with connectivity for daily life and for the sake of telemedicine. Broadband would also help in the cities, especially as we see the disparities for families now facing online schooling. 

How would you evaluate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas thus far?

Governor Kelly has shown fantastic leadership and attention to the science and data when making her decisions guiding the state. The process has played itself out in Kansas and now we are where we are where her centralized leadership has been broken down into a patchwork of local control. 

Should the COVID-19 pandemic continue into 2021, what would your top priority be?

Given where we are now, I think we are at a place where we need to continue to stress mask wearing, social distancing and good hand washing so that we can open the economy/schools/social life safely. We cannot have one without the other. 

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?

It is clear to me that we really are all interconnected. When dealing with a global pandemic and a disease that does not care whether one lives in a city or the country, I would like Kansans to take away the belief that we need a heart to take care of each other. 

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?

Those are three rather large questions that touch on each other but are essays unto themselves. At the State level, they become issues of resources. What level of resources are there in prisons to deal with outbreaks? When addressing social justice, there are lower profile bills dealing with everything from the Crown Act, adding language to the anti-discrimination law to protect natural hairstyles more often worn by African Americans or legislation dealing with how suspended drivers licenses are handled that address the system behind systemic issues. I would love to see resources allocated to police departments that allow for training on de-escalation as well as monies for communities to address mental health issues. 

Navigating the Pandemic Election

How to Vote and Be an Engaged Citizen During a Time of Disruption, Conflict and Uncertainty A KLC Journal Magazine Virtual Launch Event and Discussion Join us from 5-6:15 PM. on Thursday, Oct. 22, for the virtual release of the KLC Journal magazine’s Fall Edition with a focus on issues and voting in one of the most unusual elections most of us have ever seen.