By Mark Farr

People often ask us why the Kansas NEA, an organization dedicated to representing professional educators, supports Medicaid (KanCare) expansion. After all, don’t teachers have medical insurance already? Most teachers have access to affordable medical insurance, and their salaries would preclude them from accessing insurance through the expansion of KanCare. But by focusing on teachers alone we ignore some of the harsh realities of how medical coverage is provided in the United States.

Kansas NEA does not only represent teachers. We also represent education support personnel (ESP) – school secretaries, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, custodians and others. It may come as a surprise to some that there are ESP employees whose greatest personal need is to access a school district’s health insurance plan. For these employees, a spouse may not have employer-provided health insurance. By the time the ESP employee pays his/her share of the premium for family coverage, most of their wages have been exhausted. We desperately need to enact heath care provisions that support these hardworking families.

Low-income families can take advantage of the KanCare SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), which would allow the children to have health care. The problem is that the parents of those children may be caught in the KanCare gap under which they are not eligible for Medicaid. These families – many of whom are “working poor” – are one medical emergency away from having to choose between health care and rent or food.

As teachers, few things cause us more anguish than hungry or homeless children. The anxiety and stress on these children and their parents manifests itself in difficulty focusing on learning and ultimately can lead to lower achievement. Many children who get their only meals in the school breakfast and lunch programs underscore the challenges faced by so many Kansas families. Learning is almost impossible when a child is hungry or homeless. Medicaid expansion offers the families of working poor Kansans a lifeline to opportunity.

A lesson we hope we learn from the experience of this current pandemic, is that health care is critical – not just for those who can afford private insurance plans or who are lucky enough to have employer-provided plans but for all our citizens including those in poverty and those who have lost their jobs. Additionally, Kansans who have no health care insurance generate a much larger cost impact on all Kansans than would be needed to provide Medicaid expansion. Passage of Medicaid expansion will not solve all of the issues of poverty but it is certainly one way that we can support low-income parents and their children.

Mark Farr is president of the Kansas National Education Association