Kansas needs Medicaid expansion now more than ever

By Molly Gotobed | Feb. 24, 2021

As the COVID pandemic rages on, health coverage and access to care is more important than ever.

Thankfully, we have a new president who is supportive of the Affordable Care Act and recognizes the dire need for coverage. The Biden administration recently re-opened enrollment for the health insurance marketplace now through May 15, twice the length of the regular annual enrollment period in November. While this opportunity has the potential to help thousands of Kansans who may have lost coverage due to the pandemic, many residents will still be uninsured because our state lawmakers failed to support the ACA by not expanding Medicaid.

Without this policy in place, some of our most vulnerable community members will continue to lack access to essential health care services. Among them are low-income adults with hypertension and/or diabetes who are at greater risk of developing complications from COVID-19. Wyandotte County has some of the highest reported COVID cases per capita compared to the rest of the state and with an 18% uninsured rate, a lot of this care will go uncompensated. By not passing Medicaid expansion during a pandemic, Kansas lawmakers increase the strain on a community already fraught with poor health outcomes and the institutions that serve them.

Our office regularly assists uninsured residents whose chronic conditions have worsened because they can’t get basic treatment, which leads to disabilities, unemployment and sometimes death. Our clients end up in the ER with large bills they can’t afford to pay.

In a typical year, KU Medical Center provides millions of dollars of uncompensated care to the uninsured. These costs get passed on to the rest of us through inflated bills.

The federal government will reimburse 90% of Medicaid expansion costs. So why then, especially now, would lawmakers refuse to pass a law that could change the lives of over 165,000 Kansas residents? Many argue we can’t afford it but after working with families facing financial ruin from medical debt and the chronic stress associated with a sick community, folks in my office would say we’re already paying for it — sometimes with human lives.

Molly Gotobed is Program Director for the Kansas Assistance Network LLC at the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County