Opinion Columns & Blogs

Legislature missing chance to extend help to Kansans

Marcillene Dover
Marcillene Dover

I often hear the term “able-bodied adult” when talking about KanCare expansion. I was one of those “able-bodieds,” except my body isn’t always so able. I am living with multiple sclerosis.

I began experiencing symptoms in 2014, when I was a student at Wichita State University. I experienced pain in my neck and my speech became slurred. I began falling on campus as I walked between classes. The scariest part was that despite working, I couldn’t afford health insurance and was faced with finding a way to afford this expensive disease. In 2017, the average price of prescription drugs alone for MS was nearly $84,000 per year.

That’s when I began sharing my story about being an uninsured college student living in the KanCare gap. In 2015, I testified in front of the House health committee. It was scary and intimidating, but I felt it was important not just for me, but for other Kansans facing devastating diagnoses and uncertain futures.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, chairs the committee and he was pleasant to me throughout the process. So I was surprised by a recent personal attack he made against me during a Topeka Capital-Journal podcast on KanCare expansion.

Hawkins shared his memory of a college student with MS (me) testifying in front of his committee and how “I know she did have access to health care through the university system.” I wish he had asked me about the health plan during the hearing, instead of using it to discredit me three years later.

University health plans are not equipped nor intended to treat expensive chronic illness. Remember those prescription drug costs? The WSU plan required a 30-percent co-pay, an out of pocket cost of more than $25,000.

Prescription drug costs, deductibles and the premium itself were not within my financial capabilities, but I made too much to qualify for assistance to buy a marketplace plan. Community health centers do not provide specialty health services, such as neurology care, so that wasn’t an option. This is what it is like to live in the KanCare gap.

During the same podcast, Hawkins went on to say that “she carried around a pretty nice phone” and that his father imparted wisdom upon him when he was a young man to prioritize health insurance.

Hawkins certainly knows that times have changed. Cell phones have replaced land lines and are necessary as a source of contact for school and work.

Insurance access and affordability have also changed since he was a kid and for many people, it is unaffordable on a limited budget. This is exactly why Kansas needs KanCare expansion. Expansion would allow chronically ill people who have complex health care needs to continue to work, attend college and contribute to society.

The good news is that I’m now a high school physics teacher and I have health insurance. It’s been three years since I shared my story with Hawkins and since that time, both he and Gov. Jeff Colyer have failed to support KanCare expansion.

It makes me worried for other young, uninsured Kansans facing devastating diagnoses. Kansas should be a place that does everything it can to provide for its most vulnerable citizens. Instead, it continues to miss opportunities to join the 33 states that have expanded their programs.

Marcillene Dover is a physics teacher at North High School in Wichita.