Health Care

Medicaid cuts likely to hurt low-income families in Kansas

WASHINGTON — Unless Congress bails them out, states would likely have to cut health coverage for low-income families and others without insurance, a new report says.

Lawmakers included higher Medicaid reimbursement funds for states in last year's economic stimulus bill, but the money will expire Dec. 31.

Without an extension, Kansas and most other states would not be able to ensure that eligible Medicaid beneficiaries would be served, according to Families USA, a nonpartisan health advocacy group, which issued the report Thursday.

"At the same time Congress is considering health reform, a more immediate crisis is looming that will cause many to join the ranks of the uninsured within the next year," said Ron Pollack, the group's executive director.

The report said that a six-month extension of the increased reimbursement rate would also help spur business activity and create jobs.

According to the report, Kansas would get about $156.5 million in additional federal support for Medicaid if the program is extended through June 2011.

Kansas would gain $331.5 million in additional business activity from the increased funds, Pollack said, and "about 3,300 jobs would be retained or gained."

Medicaid is a health insurance program for the poor whose costs are shared by the federal government and the states.

Kansas has about 276,000 people on Medicaid; a third of them are children.

But as they wrestle with tough budgets because of the economy, states are scrambling for ways to save money.

Kansas has already cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers by 10 percent.

"If providers decide not to participate in Medicaid, or not take on any more Medicaid patients because the rates are too low, we have a lot of concerns about assuring access to care," said Peter Hancock, a spokesman for the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which administers the Medicaid program.

President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2011 contains extra Medicaid funds for every state, including $157 million for Kansas.

The House also recently passed by a jobs bill that includes a six-month extension of the higher reimbursement. The Senate has not taken any action yet, but is expected to debate its own jobs legislation next week.

Medicaid advocates say states need to know soon whether Congress intends to help because they're involved in 2011 budget talks now.

"They're in very dire, dire straits," said Ann Kohler, director of health care services for the American Public Human Services Association.

"They are looking at ways to survive. State revenues will lag about three or four years behind the (economic) recovery, so they're not going to be out of this for some time. This money is critical."