Opinion Columns & Blogs

Rep. Jim Ward: Medicaid expansion essential to healthier Kansas

In the next few weeks a decision will be made in Topeka that will determine if you pay more for your health care coverage or less.

Medicaid is an insurance program that covers many low-income Kansans, including those who are elderly and severely disabled. Who is covered varies from state to state, and Kansas currently has one of the lowest coverage rates of any state.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states have a choice to expand Medicaid coverage so that people up to 133 percent of the poverty level can get health insurance. In real dollars, that means only individuals making about $15,000 a year or less would qualify. Can you imagine being a working Kansan making $15,000 and trying to buy health insurance?

The expansion of Medicaid has been attacked for costing the state too much money. In reality, not expanding Medicaid will cost all of us significantly more money in higher health insurance premiums and lost economic opportunity.

First, the actual costs: The federal government will absorb 100 percent of the costs for the first three years of the expansion. Kansas will pay zero dollars for the expansion. There will be some costs as people already eligible enroll because of expansion publicity. After the first three years, the cost to the state gradually increases to a maximum of 10 percent of the entire bill; the rest is paid by the federal government.

Now let’s look at the money the Medicaid expansion will generate and the savings it will mean for Kansans. There will be lower health insurance premiums, because there will be a reduction in costly emergency room treatment as more people have insurance.

There will be an economic multiplier effect of injecting $382 million into Kansas the first year and more in future years. There will be jobs created to serve the increased demand for health care services.

Without the expansion, providers will have to increase prices to cover the expenses of providing services to the uninsured.

Expanding Medicaid will save lives.