As state legislators sit around and wait for that elusive budget solution to appear, they should consider the serious consequences of their continued failure to expand Medicaid in Kansas.
Kansas hospitals and other medical providers have pleaded with state leaders to expand KanCare, Gov. Sam Brownback’s privatized Medicaid delivery system. They note that other changes under the Affordable Care Act are reducing their payments and putting some facilities at risk of closing, that expansion would bring $2.2 billion in federal funds to the state through 2020, and that other states have found ways to expand that reflect free-market principles.
A new poll indicates that 64 percent of Kansans, 58 percent of Kansas Republicans and 63 percent of Wichitans support expansion, which would raise eligibility to 138 percent of the poverty line, or less than $33,000 in annual income for a family of four.
And last week another powerful voice made itself heard.
The Catholic bishops of the state said “many of our brothers and sisters who cannot currently afford health insurance would gain access to it, bringing an end to the uncertainty and fear that the uninsured of our society must live with daily.” Reminding state leaders of the parable of the “good Samaritan” found in Luke 10:29-37, the bishops observed “that the measure of a culture is the manner in which it provides for its weakest and most vulnerable.”
But long-sought House hearings on expansion recently led nowhere. Though the room was packed with proponents, what prevailed were a state official’s fearmongering testimony about costs to the state and a national Americans for Prosperity representative’s threat that AFP would “hold accountable any legislator who supports this misguided scheme.”
The truth is that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of expansion in 2016, then scale back its contribution to no less than 90 percent by 2020. And the Brownback administration inflates the state’s potential expenses by folding in the cost of taking disabled Medicaid beneficiaries off the waiting lists for in-home support services – a separate issue from KanCare expansion.
The value of expansion extends beyond money for the 150,000 uninsured Kansans, including many who work at jobs without benefits. As Robert Moser, Brownback’s former Kansas health and environment secretary, testified: “Access to care in turn translates to healthier families and a healthier workforce.”
Such common sense and compassion may be no match for the shamelessness of the opposition, as seen in Tennessee earlier this year. Though Republican Gov. Bill Haslam had spent two years crafting an expansion plan, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity killed it in committee in three days, vilifying and scaring lawmakers with radio ads and mailings linking the plan to President Obama.
“The problem hasn’t gone away,” Haslam later told USA Today. “We still have people who need insurance.”
So does Kansas, which a Gallup study named as the only state to see its uninsured rate rise last year.
If lawmakers listen to their constituents, rather than AFP’s threats, they will demand that the governor and legislative leaders act in the best interests of Kansas’ hospitals and uninsured. That means expanding KanCare.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman