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Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran Faces Pressure Over Health Care At Town Hall Event

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Senators left Washington last week before reaching a resolution on the Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This week, those senators are at home. Most are not holding public events, but we're going to catch up with a couple of those who are. We'll start in Kansas. Senator Jerry Moran faced an overflow crowd today in the tiny West Kansas town of Palco. Some in the audience had driven hundreds of miles to be there, as did reporter Jim McClean of member station KCUR.

(CROSSTALK)

JIM MCLEAN, BYLINE: Moran has held more than 1,200 town hall meetings as a member of the U.S. House and now the Senate but few like this one. Though Kansas is reliably Republican, particularly here in the wheat and oil country of the High Plains, most in the crowd were outspoken about their opposition to the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Seventy-two-year-old Margy Stewart drove more than 100 miles from her ranch in the Flint Hills to be here. She applauds Moran for being one of a handful of Republican senators to come out against the initial draft of the bill but worries he'll be pressured into voting with his leadership.

MARGY STEWART: It's clear that Kansans want to move forward on health care. And I think he's picking up on that. So he opposed this bill. However, his leadership in the Senate really wants this win.

MCLEAN: Moran is usually a reliable vote on GOP legislation but declined to say whether he is in discussions with Senate leaders about what it would take to get his vote on this bill. Still, Moran says he's open to voting for something that addresses his concerns. One of which is the way the bill treats states like Kansas that haven't expanded their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY MORAN: So, it takes money out of a state that didn't expand Medicaid and provides it to states that did expand Medicaid to extend the period of time that Medicaid expansion receives the higher federal reimbursement rate. So that's troublesome to me

MCLEAN: Under that provision, Kansas taxpayers would be billed more than 20 billion dollars to support expansion states according to the Kansas Hospital Association. Moran says he's also concerned about how the Medicaid cuts in the bill would affect Kansans with disabilities and rural health care providers. Moran says he was against the closed-door process that Republican leaders used to write the bill. He says he would like to see a new bill written in an open committee process, one that preserves the benefits of the Affordable Care Act while lowering the cost of coverage. But he acknowledges that may be too much to hope for in Washington's highly partisan climate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORAN: Almost impossible when you're trying to do it with 51 votes in the U.S. Senate in which there is not significant consensus of what the end result ought to be.

MCLEAN: Moran is not accustomed to being in the national spotlight on such a marquee issue. But like it or not, he's now center stage in the health care debate, and his opposition to the initial draft of the bill has created expectations and pressure that he may not have anticipated, says University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis.

BURDETT LOOMIS: It's unclear he thought things through as completely as he might have because now, rather than being a pretty much a presumptive yes, I think in many people's eyes in Kansas, he's a presumptive no. This puts a lot of pressure on Moran politically.

MCLEAN: Moran says he doesn't feel any additional pressure. But surrounded by national and international reporters on the main street of Palco, he concedes his opposition to the bill is getting him more media attention than usual. For NPR News, I'm Jim McLean in Palco, Kansas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.