Why Kansas conservatives should embrace Medicaid expansion

"Medicaid expansion will bring hundreds of millions of our federal tax dollars back home to Kansas, creating jobs, aiding our economy, supporting our hospitals and improving the health of Kansans," writes Greg Graves. (University of Kansas Health System).

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Greg Graves is the board chairman for The University of Kansas Hospital Authority and the former CEO of Burns & McDonnell.

Today, more than 200,000 Missourians who previously did not have health insurance will soon be able to access it, through Missouri voters’ decision on Aug. 4 to expand Medicaid.

Imagine waking up for the first time in a long time knowing you didn’t have to choose between your child’s health and paying other critical bills. Imagine waking up knowing your vote helped those earning approximately $26,000 per year for a family of three in Missouri find access to quality health care.

In Kansas, that’s what we must do: Imagine.

I am Kansas proud, and while Kansas leads the nation in many things, we now find ourselves leading in a sad way.

Kansas has become an island. Every surrounding state — Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and now Missouri — has expanded Medicaid coverage. Today, this isolation could have dire consequences for our health care systems and hospitals, leaving them to care for a growing number of working adults and children without access to other health care options.

Expanding KanCare, a Kansas-managed care product for Medicaid, would offer coverage to approximately 130,000 additional Kansans, giving them access to care.

When our neighbors and fellow Kansans are healthier, our state is healthier.

While expanding Medicaid in Kansas is not a single solution to all the challenges health care faces today, especially in our rural communities, it is a critical part of the solution. This work requires a uniquely Kansas approach and true bipartisanship.

I applaud Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican, for joining forces earlier this year. They drafted compromise legislation and worked to pass the bill, but unfortunately the Kansas legislature did not vote on the compromise legislation.

Unfortunately, we are becoming far too accustomed to politics taking precedent over health care and science, and I believe we are better than this. If you’re an economic conservative like me, there is no better return for our tax dollars. If you’re socially moderate, also like me, there is no better use for those dollars.

Missouri successfully passed Medicaid expansion because it was a referendum that allowed citizens to vote directly on the issue. Kansas does not have a referendum process, so it is up to our Legislature to act on behalf of our citizens.

With expanded Medicaid coverage and less uncompensated care, hospitals and clinics throughout our state will be able to focus critical resources on evolving patient needs. Medicaid expansion will bring hundreds of millions of our federal tax dollars back home to Kansas, creating jobs, aiding our economy, supporting our hospitals and improving the health of Kansans.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the amazing efforts of our front line workers. They are true heroes providing care and relief during these unprecedented times. Now it is time for our Legislature to be heroic and pass Medicaid expansion.

I urge the Legislature to be the voice of our people. Support access to quality care for Kansans across our state. Now more than ever, as we face a global pandemic, every Kansan needs health care. Missouri’s vote showed support across all perceived borders — rural and urban, Democrat and Republican. We can do the same.

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