Supermajority of Kansas voters support expanded Medicaid, when informed, survey shows

By: - February 7, 2022 2:45 pm

April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, says her organization is focused on getting the word out to everyday Kansans about the benefits of Medicaid expansion. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from news conference video)

TOPEKA — New research sponsored by the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas shows 78% of Kansas voters support Medicaid expansion after learning about current qualifications for the health insurance program.

With Republican leadership in the Legislature uninterested in expanding Medicaid, the alliance has shifted its focus toward correcting misconceptions about the topic. The new survey, conducted by research firm PerryUndem, bolsters the approach.

“Our hope is to really build a movement that is too big to ignore, too loud to silence,” said April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, during a news conference last week. “That’s what we’ve been working on — to make sure that we’re getting the word out to everyday Kansans about this opportunity and how important it is. Because even though it’s been around for many years, I think that there are still people who don’t fully understand what expansion could mean for our state.”

Kansas is one of 12 states that has yet to expand Medicaid.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states can expand Medicaid coverage to families with an income of up to 138% of the federal poverty level. For a single working mother with two children, that would mean earning less than $30,305 annually.

Kansas is one of 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. To participate in the program, known here as KanCare, a family of three would have to earn less than 38% of the federal poverty limit, or less than $8,345.

Various estimates have indicated an additional 120,000 to 165,000 Kansans, more than half of them children, would receive health care coverage through Medicaid expansion. The federal government would pay for 90% of service costs, and the effect on the Kansas budget would be about $50 million annually. That investment would be offset by the economic impact of injecting a billion dollars in federal spending.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who is seeking reelection this year, has made expansion a top priority. There is enough support among lawmakers for the narrow passage of a Medicaid expansion bill in both chambers, but Republican leadership has prevented legislation from receiving a vote.

PerryUndem collaborated with Chris Matthews of Bellwether Research, which typically works with GOP clients, to conduct focus groups and a subsequent survey of Kansas voters. The survey results were based on 15 minute phone calls with 613 randomly selected and weighted voters between Dec. 20 and Dec. 30.

Voters were given the following information before they were asked if they support Medicaid expansion: “KanCare is a health insurance program mainly for low-income children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities. It covers doctor visits, hospitalizations, prescriptions, mental health care, and other basic services. In Kansas, there are strict limits on who can qualify. For example, an uninsured parent in a family of three has to earn less than $4.00 an hour to qualify. If you don’t have children, you cannot qualify at all, no matter how low your income is.”

Michael Perry, of the research firm PerryUndem, says voters have never been the problem with passing Medicaid expansion. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from news conference video)

Based on that information, 78% said they would support expansion — 65% of Republicans, 76% of independents and 96% of Democrats. The program had the support of 87% of women and 68% of men.

Voters also said say they are more likely to support Medicaid expansion after being told 165,000 low-wage Kansans would qualify, that the federal government would pay for 90% of costs, and that all the bordering states already have expanded.

“Voters have never been the problem on this issue,” said Michael Perry, of PerryUndem. “They’ve always wanted expansion, and that goes back for years now. So it is what people want. You don’t have to talk them into it.”

Perry said the pre-survey focus groups helped researchers determine why some people had reservations about Medicaid expansion. Those people believed you could earn “a reasonable income” and still qualify, Perry said.

Matthew Schmidt, CEO of Health Ministries Clinic in Newton and Halstead, said many patients fall into the coverage gap, forcing them to decide whether to delay care or face rising medical debt.

More frequently, Schmidt said, these patients have jobs but no health insurance.

“As a starting point for most people, they’re like, ‘Oh, Medicaid is for people who don’t work,’ ” Schmidt said. “This is changing that conversation.”

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas represents 125 organizations and has advocated for Medicaid expansion since 2016.

“This research shows Kansans are looking for ways to keep costs in check, and demanding that legislators take steps to expand KanCare now to do so,” Holman said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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