With about 15 minutes left in a town hall meeting featuring Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.), state Rep. Tim Hodge (D-North Newton) slipped into the Bessemer Room of the Newton Library and sat down.
Hodge listened to Estes discuss campaign finance reform and a little bit of a tax rate discussion. He heard Estes discuss his belief in how to allow for more private education as competition for public school districts, and what governments need to do to make sure privatization of prisons can be successful if that option is chosen.
With just a few minutes left in the congressman's visit, as he was due for another town hall in another community, Hodge raised his hand with a statement that doubled as a question.
"What do you tell the Prairie View's, the nursing homes, the Newton health care Corporations when you say you don't want to expand Medicaid in Kansas when their bottom lines are directly hurt by that, and our access to better health care is hurt by that, our nursing homes are hurt by that, our mental health institutions are hurt and our Health Ministries could really benefit for that — What do you say to us in Harvey County and Newton, Kansas, that could really benefit from that but you come here and say you will not support that," Hodge said.
The short answer Estes gave was that Medicaid expansion is a state issue.
But there was more to it than that.
"One of the problems that exists today with the current Medicaid system is that so there are so many different parameters on how providers ... get reimbursed for the services they provide," Estes said. "Mental health is one that is not in good shape. I will stand here right now and say that I do not think the solution is to cut the money going to providers. That has been done a lot, and I do not think that is an option."
Hodge rebutted the answer he was given — saying it was "something that comes from your party."
Estes fielded questions about health care throughout about a 40-minute long question and answer session. During those moments he spoke of the "Failure of Obamacare" and "collapsing exchanges."
"health care needs to be fixed," one member of the audience said. "I have not heard you say anything about how we repair it. We have to shore up federal subsidies and prevent insurance markets from collapsing until something is figured out."
Estes responded with a need to define what it is that needs fixing — defining a difference between health care and health insurance.
"What is it we are asking ourselves to accomplish," Estes said. "We need to repair both health care, and health insurance. Having health insurance does not guarantee that you will have health care. So much of the last few years, we have blurred that discussion together. ... We need to address health care as well as health insurance. What I am saying today is the health insurance structure under Obamacare is not working."
Estes also fueled questions about military spending levels, corporate tax rates and if he would vote to "bail out Obamacare."
On that last question, the answer was no. He also answered no, quite succinctly to a question asking if he will always vote with President Donald Trump on issues.
"You did not send me there to always vote no, you did not send me there to always vote yes, either," Estes said.