Randy Keith lost his health insurance when he lost his job last January. Then another job failed because of the pandemic. The Wichita resident is in need of mental health and dental care.
Like thousands of other Kansans, Randy and his wife, who collect unemployment benefits, are stuck in the “Medicaid coverage gap”: they earn too little to get federal financial aid to buy a market plan and too much to. qualify for KanCare, Kansas’ version of Medicaid.
This is because in Kansas, adults with children under the age of 19 can qualify for Medicaid, but only if their income does not exceed 38% of the federal poverty line. This low threshold makes it difficult for all parents except those with lower incomes to qualify.
The Kansas legislature could help Randy and many others cover themselves by expanding KanCare eligibility, something Topeka policymakers have repeatedly failed to do.
While the US bailout has provided other significant incentives for states to extend Medicaid to their most vulnerable residents, to date none of the 12 states that have yet to expand have opted.
While the ultimate goal of the policy is for all states to extend Medicaid coverage to their eligible residents, it is increasingly recognized that in states where state governors and / or legislatures continue to refuse to extend , there should be an administered path of incomes below 138% of the poverty line, or $ 36,570 for a family of four.
Our lawmakers must stop playing politics with Kansans’ health. They should listen to community members and leaders of the faith, health care and business organizations who are supporting the expansion of Medicaid and coverage of an additional 165,000 people in our state, including 7,400 veterans and their families. spouses and thousands of essential workers.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have expanded their Medicaid programs. Evidence shows that the expansion of Medicaid leads to better access to care and positive health outcomes for individuals, prevents rural hospitals from going bankrupt, and boosts state economies.
The expansion would come with substantial federal support: the federal government would cover 90% of the cost for newly covered adults. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by the US Congress in March, Kansas would benefit from a five percentage point increase in the federal Medicaid matching rate for two years, between $ 330 million and $ 468 million over that period. .
All of these things would be good for Kansas. And the majority of Kansans see the benefit of expanding Medicaid. According to last fall’s Kansas Speaks poll, about 64% of Kansans support KanCare expansion, and 72% believe Medicaid expansion would help rural hospitals stay open.
But in Kansas, Medicaid can only be extended through legislative action – not through a voting initiative representing the will of the voters. Here’s what the state will gain if it makes the right choice and extends KanCare:
â¢ More workers in good enough health to participate in the labor market. A significant body of evidence shows that health insurance coverage, including Medicaid, improves physical and mental health.
â¢ Insurance coverage for small businesses. Expanding states have seen significant gains in insurance coverage among people who work for small businesses and for themselves.
â¢ Economic stimulation and job creation. A Kansas State University economist estimates that the full expansion will create 13,000 jobs, $ 1.8 billion in increased economic output, and nearly $ 75 million in new state and local tax revenue.
â¢ Increase in consumer spending and business income. When people have health care coverage, rather than being uninsured, they can use the money they save on medical bills for other things they need, such as housing, transportation and the food.
â¢ Improved economic development and business recruitment. Most of the states on our borders have extended Medicaid. Businesses are looking for healthy workers and communities and a strong health system. KanCare’s expansion will allow us to compete with our neighbors for new businesses.
â¢ Continuous access to healthcare in rural areas. Four rural Kansas hospitals have closed in recent years. People in communities without a hospital find it difficult to get emergency care and surgery. When hospitals close, many people lose their jobs. And rural hospitals have fared poorly in states without Medicaid expansion, which helps cover the cost of “unpaid care” when people can’t pay their medical bills.
We Kansans want health coverage for ourselves and for our neighbors. We have seen the expansion of Medicaid improve access to health care for millions of people in other states. It’s time we said, âWhy not here?
April Holman is Executive Director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.