With the clock running out on this year’s legislative session, it appears as if Gov. Sam Brownback and state lawmakers may put off until next year the decision on whether to expand Medicaid. Though delaying would be better than blocking expansion, it still would be costly, especially for Kansans who need health insurance.
Brownback has been dragging his feet on whether to allow the expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. Though he has said that he is open to it, he has questioned whether the state could afford the cost.
But a study by the Kansas Hospital Association showed that Kansas can’t afford not to allow the expansion. Not only would it enable more than 150,000 Kansans to get needed insurance, it would inject more than $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years.
What’s more, expansion could save the state money by moving onto Medicaid some adults currently cared for by the state, such as those with mental illnesses. The KHA study calculates a net savings of $82 million from 2014 to 2020, in large part because the federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years.
Delaying expansion would mean that the state could miss out on a year’s worth of increased federal funding and lower state costs. But even more important, thousands of its citizens would go another year without insurance.
Delaying may have become more tempting for Brownback and lawmakers after President Obama released his budget last month postponing planned cuts to hospitals that serve low-income uninsured patients. The payments were supposed to drop next year in expectation that many of these patients would be joining Medicaid.
The loss of this funding without the expansion would be a severe blow to the state’s hospitals, and could put some small hospitals out of business. Postponing these cuts takes some pressure off Brownback to act – though there are other payment cuts from health care reforms and the sequestration that still will be difficult for hospitals to absorb.
To his credit, Brownback didn’t make a knee-jerk, ideological decision to block Medicaid expansion, as some other GOP governors did. But he doesn’t need another year to decide that expansion is good for Kansas and its citizens.
He should support Medicaid expansion, without delay.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee