Why Kansas needs to join the 38 states that have expanded Medicaid

Medicaid expansion would help to fuel the recovery by infusing more than $700 million annually into the Kansas economy, increasing economic activity and helping businesses get back on their feet, writes April Holman of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. (Getty Images)

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. April Holman is executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

For more than a decade, Kansas’ conservative legislative leaders have done everything in their power to block expansion of the Medicaid program. Unfortunately, their political games have left us as the last holdout state on expansion in the Midwest. An island. And it’s wreaking havoc on our hospitals, our people and our economy.

Medicaid expansion is perhaps most critically needed for our health care system. A new report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform shows that 47 rural Kansas hospitals are at immediate risk for closure.

That’s more than any other state in the nation.

We know that Medicaid expansion won’t “save” these hospitals, but study after study has proven that hospitals in expansion states are less likely to close and that they see improvements in financial performance by reducing the amount of uncompensated care.

Without expansion, the Kansas health care system just can’t compete with the states surrounding us, all of which have approved Medicaid expansion. They can offer health care workers higher salaries and we miss out on economic opportunities.

Everyday Kansans are losing, too.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of Kansans were uninsured. Now those numbers are even greater, and it’s estimated that 165,000 people could gain health care coverage through Medicaid expansion.

Many of our state’s uninsured are essential workers like childcare providers, nursing homes aides, cashiers, farmers and restaurant employees who have kept Kansas functioning and safe during these challenging times. In addition to helping these individuals, expanding Medicaid would have a positive ripple effect for families, communities and our entire state by giving them access to affordable health coverage so they can get back to work and help to drive our economic recovery.

Expansion also has benefits for our economy. Kansas is experiencing historic levels of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely result in significant state budget cuts in the upcoming year. Medicaid expansion would help to fuel the recovery by infusing more than $700 million annually into the Kansas economy, increasing economic activity and helping businesses get back on their feet. The federal government pays 90% of the cost of expansion and right now we can’t afford to turn away these dollars.

I urge lawmakers to consider Medicaid expansion a top priority. The majority of Kansans support expansion and want to see it happen. The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas coalition, comprising more than 100 organizations from across the state, is re-committed to advocating for this critical public health policy.

There is also movement at the federal level — a new proposal being considered by Congress includes an incentive for holdout states to adopt Medicaid expansion that could yield $330 million in additional funding for Kansas. We can’t afford to pass up vital relief over politics.

Medicaid expansion is not a political issue, but a practical opportunity to help health care consumers, providers and communities. Call or write to your representatives in the Statehouse and tell them to stop the political games and do what’s right for Kansas. Talk to your neighbors, friends and family to get them involved. Let’s do whatever it takes to make expansion a reality.

Thirty-eight states — including all of Kansas’ neighboring states — have adopted Medicaid expansion. It’s time to join them.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.