After years of delay, Kansas should expand Medicaid coverage

February 28, 2023 3:33 am

Legislators should be racing to expand Medicaid, writes Susan Osborne, but instead they're busy playing political games. (Getty Images)

When it comes to expanding Medicaid, Kansas is quickly becoming one of the last states that continues to lose money and lives because of its refusal to change.

Kansas is surrounded by states that have expanded, and those states are experiencing economic and job growth, along with a much lower rate of rural hospital closures.

One of the last 11 states whose legislative leadership stood firm against expansion has now done a complete turnaround. Phil Berger, Republican and the president pro-tem of the North Carolina Senate, vowed to never allow expansion. He has changed his mind and now supports expansion, saying that all the concerns he had have been alleviated.

He first thought that expansion might discourage people from working. He’s finally realized that these low-income people are already working. He also thought that the federal government might renege paying 90% of the costs. He’s realized that expansion is here to stay.

North Carolina is now on the road to be the 40th state to expand.

So, why isn’t the Kansas Legislature listening? At this point, lawmakers should already know the facts. Unfortunately, they seem to be playing political games rather than doing what’s best for Kansas.

Here we are in 2023, with 39 states having already expanded. Kansas has already lost $6 billion (yes, billion!) by its continued refusal, while at the same time paying taxes that are being sent to the other 39 states that have expanded.

It would be different if Kansans disapproved of expansion; disapproved of saving our rural hospitals that are at greater risk of closure than any other state our size; disapproved of economic development or increased job opportunities or affordable health care for low-income working families. However, almost eight in 10 Kansans do approve of Medicaid expansion and expect their legislators to move forward.

Unlike many of the states that have voted to expand, Kansans lack the right to put their own initiatives on the ballot. Legislative leaders are opposed to giving Kansans this right.

Why hasn’t the Legislature acted? The federal government covers 90% of the cost, and if Kansas expanded this year, it would receive an extra incentive of 5%. State and independent analyses have consistently shown that states that have expanded see an increase in net savings, and they haven’t had to cut back on other expenditures.

No state that has expanded has pulled back.

The leaders in the state Senate and House have refused to allow expansion to be discussed. Sitting behind Gov. Laura Kelly in her January State of the State speech, top leadership looked the other way as she spoke in support.

If you want to learn more about the issue, visit the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas online. Learn about the myriad of organizations that support expansion of KanCare, as the Medicaid program is known in Kansas. Invite Alliance members to speak to your church, business, or social group, or speak to them yourself. This shouldn’t be a political issue. Both Republican and Democratic states have expanded. Check out the interactive map of states that have done so.

Like Berger in North Carolina, legislators who oppose Medicaid expansion should now know the old reasons for not expanding have been disproven. The 150,000 Kansans who can’t access affordable health care are already working, and expansion is here to stay.

Sadly, the current income limit to qualify for KanCare is about $8,750 per year for a family of three, which is less than $4 per hour. The bar is way too low. Most states (including Nebraska and Montana) that have expanded are removing working and healthy-living requirements, not adding them.

While anti-expansion legislators claim they support mental health and addiction programs, they can do so by passing Medicaid expansion. That would allow low-income families that are struggling with addiction to receive needed mental health care. Additionally, “expansion would lead to increased resources for behavioral health providers, decrease the costs of county jails in Kansas and reduce the number of children entering the Kansas foster care system due to neglect,” according to the Alliance.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas and more than 130 supporting organizations are fighting for KanCare expansion this year. It’s the right thing to do.

Susan Osborne is a member of the state leadership team of Women for Kansas. Through its opinion section, 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.

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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.