It matters a lot that the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce now favors expansion of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, even though the endorsement has some conditions.
Kansas so far has failed to join the 30 states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The step, which would be at least 90 percent financed by federal dollars, would cover about 150,000 low-income Kansans while helping offset painful federal reimbursement cuts to Kansas hospitals for uncompensated care.
Chamber lobbyist Jason Watkins told the Kansas Health Institute News Service that the chamber board voted Thursday to add Medicaid expansion to its list of 2016 legislative priorities – a move reflecting the 70 percent support for expansion in a chamber member survey, as well as the influential advocacy of Via Christi Health and Wesley Medical Center.
The two stipulations to the chamber’s support are big ones, though. The chamber insists that the expansion not increase state spending, and that nondisabled adults either be working or in job training to qualify for the coverage.
Proponents of expansion have said it would pay for itself, because the influx of federal dollars would boost the state’s economy and tax collections. One legislative proposal would levy a fee on health care providers to cover the state’s costs. A bigger roadblock is the proposed work requirement, which has been sought by other states and nixed by the federal government.
As Watkins told KHI, getting more Kansans insured could lower business costs. “The Wichita business community understands that we have folks going to hospitals and getting care, and the hospitals are not being paid because these people don’t have coverage,” Watkins said. “At the end of the day, it’s the business community that is paying for those people.”
KHI also reported that some claiming to be familiar with a member survey by the Wichita Independent Business Association “said respondents favored expansion by a wide margin” (though WIBA president Lon Smith declined to share or discuss the survey results with KHI).
The latest Kansas Speaks survey from Fort Hays State University found that 62 percent of the public supports Medicaid expansion.
Nonetheless, the opposition at the Statehouse is digging in. House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, recently acted to pre-empt any debate on the issue, let alone a vote, by replacing three pro-expansion Republicans on the House Health and Human Service Committee. And the Brownback administration has inflated the estimated costs by insisting the state first provide services for all eligible disabled Kansans on waiting lists – a fine but unrelated goal.
But the business community in the state’s largest city now has taken a stand on an issue crucial to the health of Kansans and the Kansas economy. State leaders should not look the other way.