About time Medicaid expansion had a hearing

Medicaid expansion would enable about 150,000 low-income Kansans to obtain health insurance.
Medicaid expansion would enable about 150,000 low-income Kansans to obtain health insurance.

At long last, Medicaid expansion is finally receiving a full hearing in the Legislature.

And with the defeat of many expansion opponents in last year’s elections, there is a good chance a revenue-neutral bill could clear both chambers.

But even if that happens, expansion still faces tough odds. The bill likely would have to overcome a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback. And it’s uncertain whether expanding Medicaid will remain an option much longer, given Republican efforts in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The House Health and Human Services Committee has scheduled three days of hearings, starting Monday. The hearings could be packed, as hospital executives and other groups have been pleading for years for lawmakers and Brownback to allow expansion.

The public also strongly favors expansion. A poll recently released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network found that 82 percent of Kansas voters support Medicaid expansion.

Expansion would enable about 150,000 low-income Kansans, most of whom are working, to obtain health insurance. That would mean more Kansans could receive preventive care and fewer would seek emergency room treatment, which could lower health care costs.

Expansion also would help hospitals and other providers recover some of the cost of their uncompensated care. This is a major financial problem for hospitals, especially many rural hospitals that are at risk of closing.

Many in the business community also back expansion, including the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. They recognize the value of a healthy populace and the potential economic impact of expansion.

Kansas has already foregone nearly $1.7 billion in federal funding for expansion since Jan. 1, 2014.

Despite these benefits and the overwhelming public support, Brownback remains opposed to expansion. During his State of the State address last month, he even likened Medicaid expansion to “airlifting onto the Titanic.”

Brownback was referring to the likelihood that the GOP-controlled Congress will repeal the ACA and eliminate funding for expansion. But supporters of expansion argue that this possibility is even more reason to expand Medicaid as soon as possible.

If Medicaid becomes a block grant program, as many Republicans in Congress favor, expansion might enable Kansas to receive a much larger grant. Conversely, not expanding Medicaid might mean that Kansas is permanently left behind the 31 other states that allowed expansion.

It’s still unclear what Congress and President Trump will do. During the presidential campaign, Trump said that Medicaid should be used to provide health coverage to people who can’t afford private insurance – which is what expanded Medicaid does.

What is certain is that after years of refusing to even discuss Medicaid expansion, the Legislature will finally hold a real hearing.

It’s about time.