Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly indicated that a Medicaid expansion would affect children.
Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-led Legislature should not let the Affordable Care Act’s problems keep them from doing right by the low-income families and Kansas hospitals for whom Medicaid expansion could be a lifesaver.
The state’s conservative leaders need to listen to the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition, which isn’t taking the 2013 Legislature’s “no” on expansion for an answer.
“We will be more aggressive,” Bruce Witt, director of governmental relations with Via Christi Health, told fellow coalition members last week, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We believe expanding coverage to an additional 100,000-plus Kansans who are low-income fits in with our mission.”
The ACA’s launch could hardly be worse, exemplified by the humiliating moment last week in Miami when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius witnessed the HealthCare.gov website crash as an ACA “navigator” was helping a woman sign up for insurance. Then there was President Obama’s confusing flip-flop on canceled individual plans, which only postponed pain for policyholders while further burdening insurers. The low enrollment numbers and technical missteps have emboldened the critics of “Obamacare,” fueling arguments in Kansas for staying as far away as possible from Medicaid expansion and anything else related to the law.
But by neglecting to be among the roughly half of states expanding Medicaid under the ACA as of 2014 to cover those whose income is 138 percent of the federal poverty level, Kansas already is sitting out the first of three years during which the federal government will pick up the full cost of expansion. That’s dumb – a case of Kansas subsidizing other states while idly letting thousands of its own people remain not only uninsured but uninsurable under the ACA.
That’s because nearly 88,000 Kansans who lack insurance are not eligible either for Medicaid coverage under Kansas’ tightfisted rules or for the new ACA subsidies for private insurance through the online marketplace. Among 5 million such people in a coverage gap nationwide, they earn both too much and too little to access insurance.
Meanwhile, many hospitals and community health centers in Kansas face the phaseout of federal funding that helps with their costs of uncompensated care. Covering more Kansans via Medicaid means helping Kansas providers cover their costs, while benefiting the state economy with an estimated $3 billion and 4,000 new jobs by 2020.
Brownback should follow the lead of eight other GOP governors who expanded Medicaid. “For me, it was an easy decision,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the Wall Street Journal last week. “It’s going to save lives, it’s going to help people, and you tell me what’s more important than that.”
To her credit, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, has expressed a willingness to keep the state’s options open on Medicaid expansion, showing particular interest in the “Arkansas model” of using expansion funds to help people buy private insurance.
Wagle is a skilled lawmaker and a persuasive conservative voice who has said going through her family’s health crises gave her a “soft spot for doing what we can with our health care to provide the best quality care for people in need.” She is in a prime position to lead a Medicaid expansion push in her chamber and state.
Continuing to deny Medicaid expansion may hold a misguided political appeal, but it will do a grave and shameful disservice to Kansans and Kansas hospitals.