By Kevin Harker

As a proud Kansan, born and raised in a rural community, I care about the health and wellbeing of my neighbors. I believe that we should all have access to what we need to be healthy – including affordable, high-quality health coverage, no matter our personal circumstances.

Our neighbors who are self-employed, small business owners, farmers and seasonal workers are among those most likely to struggle to afford coverage. That’s why the federal government offered states money to expand their Medicaid programs: to help working adults who cannot get health insurance through their jobs and can’t afford coverage.

As the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke, the American Heart Association represents over 100 million patients, including many who rely on Medicaid for their health insurance. The AHA believes that expanding KanCare has long been a missed opportunity to positively impact our workforce, our economy and the estimated 150,000 living in the “Medicaid gap” – making too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford coverage on the insurance marketplace.

With the recent passage of Medicaid expansion at the ballot box by our neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri, and previous expansion in Nebraska and Colorado, Kansas is an island in the heartland. Many essential workers in our grocery stores and pharmacies, restaurants, nursing homes and hospitals are uninsured. They are stranded in the midst of a global pandemic without access to the health care life raft that could rescue them. Many of these workers are parents and caregivers like Melissa Dodge.

People with low incomes, working low-wage jobs, and disproportionately living with chronic health conditions like heart disease, and those who face more barriers to health care are being hit harder by the coronavirus. Kansas, like other states, is experiencing racial disparities in COVID-19 death rates. One out of every three COVID-19 deaths have been Black and Hispanic Kansans , despite accounting for less than 20% of the population. People of color and people who live in rural areas are getting sicker, are more likely to receive bills for care they cannot afford and are more likely to lose their jobs because of this crisis.

The American Heart Association will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion until we cross the finish line. It is a travesty that after a decade of clear public support, this effort continues to be blocked by just a handful of lawmakers in Topeka. All Kansans living with heart disease and stroke should have the same access to care as those in the 38 states that have already expanded, providing residents with a level playing field, giving them a fair shot at getting through the coronavirus crisis healthy and whole.

Kevin Harker is executive vice-president, Midwest Region, for the American Heart Association