Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins has Medicaid expansion all wrong. Here’s why.

May 18, 2022 3:33 am

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins chats during session on March 21, 2022. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

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. Susan Osborne is a member of the state leadership team of Women for Kansas.

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins recently wrote an opinion piece about Medicaid (Kancare) expansion filled with fear, misleading statements and downright untruths. He cited few facts, numbers or statistics. Instead, he relied on outrageous statements that have floated around unreliable websites for years.

I’d like to set the record straight.

Hawkins warns that disabled citizens’ care would be put in jeopardy by Medicaid expansion. He writes that by “adding able-bodied adults to the program” it “results in the same resources being spread more thinly across an ever-growing population.”

That’s not true. The fact is that new money and new resources are available to all currently on Medicaid and also to those newly qualified after expansion. The federal government offers the additional money when the state agrees to expansion. To date, Kansas has already lost more than $5.5 billion dollars by not expanding Medicaid.

Worries that the program isn’t sustainable can be answered by looking at expansion states.

To date, 38 states plus Washington, D.C., have already expanded the program, including all of our neighboring states. Wyoming is set to be the 39th this fall. Not one state has changed its mind.

Hawkins suggested that expansion has failed in these states because more citizens signed up than planned. Hawkins conflates dramatic increases in Medicaid enrollment with failure. In fact, increased enrollment proves success. The extra federal dollars Kansas will receive are intended for the increased enrollment. In the meantime, Kansans’ tax dollars are used by those states that have already expanded.

The Kansas economy would experience a significant boost through expansion.

“Several comprehensive analyses of current expansion states have found that Medicaid expansion had a net positive impact on state budgets,” writes the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

In another misstatement, Hawkins claims that hospitals, especially in rural areas, are at risk because of expansion. The fact is that Kansas has the unfortunate distinction of having the most hospitals at risk of closure in the United States, according to the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. With expansion, hospitals get Medicaid reimbursement rather than footing the bills themselves for uninsured patients.

Both rural and urban communities would experience economic development with the expansion of KanCare.

Hawkins maintains that able-bodied Kansans become eligible under expansion. He shames them for enrolling and suggests that they are already eligible for low-cost insurance or through their employment.

Hawkins fails to mention that almost all those who are “able-bodied” are already working but because of their low wages they are “caught in the gap,” making too much to qualify for current Medicaid and too little to afford health insurance – while not having access to healthcare through employers.

A single mom of two who makes more than $4 an hour full-time would be caught in the gap. Remember, she’s working! Those in the restaurant, construction, and lodging industries are examples of this situation. Others who would qualify include those who must care for a disabled person or who are younger and disabled.

Hawkins misstates that Medicare-covered seniors and disabled citizens will lose access to health care and end up on long wait lists. He’s trying to confuse Kansans by implying that Medicare and the current Medicaid are the same thing. Of course, that’s not true.

He also stated that 22,000 have died on waiting lists in expansion states. In fact, this statement has been used by Hawkins and unreliable websites for years. It earned Four Pinocchios from Washington Post fact-checkers in 2018. The fact is there are fewer waiting lines in states with expansion. Medicaid expansion remains associated with significant reductions in all-cause mortality.

Hawkins also states that people are left out due to enrollment caps, but there is no such thing.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “States that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have dramatically lowered their uninsured rates. Meanwhile, those who gained coverage have grown healthier and more financially secure, while longstanding racial disparities in health outcomes, coverage, and access to care have shrunk.” 

Expansion has produced net savings for many states. Additionally, expansion is associated with a more than 4% reduction in states’ spending on their traditional Medicaid programs.

What would Medicaid expansion’s effects be for families? More coverage, improved maternal health, and better preventive care. The majority of all uninsured children live in non-expansion states. 

Medicaid Expansion is not a welfare program for the able-bodied. It is a program to lift up our working neighbors who are trapped in low-wage jobs and unable to afford health insurance. 

Learn the facts. Eighty percent of Kansans support Medicaid expansion, including a majority of Democrats and Republicans, and rural and urban residents. Research results also indicate that Kansans expect our Senators and Representatives to vote for Medicaid expansion.

Before trying to scare Kansans again, Hawkins should get his facts straight.

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Susan Osborne
Susan Osborne

Susan Osborne is a member of the state leadership team of Women for Kansas. With chapters throughout the state, Women for Kansas is a non-partisan organization that supports moderation in political issues and cooperation between political parties. She is retired from teaching and administrative positions at Wichita State University, Friends University and Newman University.