Kansas stands alone — and is being left behind — on Medicaid expansion

By April Holman | Aug. 5, 2020

On Aug. 4, Missouri voters went to the polls and passed a referendum to expand Medicaid. Just a month earlier, voters in Oklahoma did the same.

Now that Missouri and Oklahoma have joined Colorado and Nebraska to become expansion states, Kansas truly stands alone as the last holdout in our region.

Since 2014, all states have had the option to expand income eligibility guidelines for Medicaid, a health insurance program for lower-income Americans, children, seniors and people with disabilities. Under federal law, states that opt in to expansion are required to pay only 10 percent of the costs. The federal government covers the remaining 90 percent. It’s a deal that most states couldn’t refuse.

In Kansas, expansion of KanCare (what our state Medicaid program is called) has wide support from business groups and chambers of commerce, faith communities, hospitals and health care providers, and advocates of all stripes. Even the majority of legislators—from both parties—support expansion. Unfortunately, a small handful of lawmakers in key leadership positions have blocked expansion at every turn.

This is harmful in a number of ways. Expansion of KanCare would allow tens of thousands of low-wage working Kansans to gain health care coverage. It has been proven time and again that health insurance coverage keeps people healthier, more financially secure and able to remain in the workforce. The more people in Kansas who are covered, the better off we all are.

This is especially true as we continue to fight COVID-19, which has wreaked havoc on Kansans’ health and the state economy. Expanding KanCare would ensure that more people have health coverage and can get care if they become sick without worrying about large medical bills afterward. Additionally, it would allow those who have lost their jobs to sign up for free or low- cost health coverage, keeping our state healthier and financially stronger.

Beyond helping our friends and neighbors stay healthy, expansion would also help us recover from the historic levels of economic fallout from the pandemic. We will likely see significant state budget cuts in the upcoming year. Medicaid expansion would help to fuel the recovery by infusing approximately $700 million annually into the Kansas economy and creating more than 13,000 new jobs.

Now that of all our neighboring states have opted in to Medicaid expansion, Kansas stands to fall even further behind. Not only will our neighboring states benefit from the addition of millions of federal dollars into their economies each year, but Kansas communities also will be at a disadvantage on attracting new businesses. Medical providers in our border communities will have more difficulty attracting and retaining qualified staff.

Expanding KanCare is an urgent need—it is one of the best tools our state can use right now to increase access to affordable health care, strengthen a struggling economy and protect hospitals and health care providers. Most states have already taken this step—and we’re being left behind. It’s time for our state legislature to do the right thing and expand Medicaid.

This commentary originally ran in the Wichita Eagle. Read it here.