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Policy adviser urges Medicaid expansion

Staff writer

Expanding KanCare is critical to the health and economic vitality of the state, a senior policy advisor with Alliance for a Healthy Kansas told 17 people who came to listen to him Saturday at Marion Community Ballroom during a county Democratic Party meeting.

Sheldon Weisgrau said Kansas has among the strictest regulations about who can qualify for the Medicaid program. If a single, working mother of two children earns minimum wage, she cannot work more than 20 hours a week and still qualify, he said.

The federal government pays 90% of Medicaid costs and the state match is 10%, Weisgrau said. Medicaid is called KanCare in Kansas.

“I’m not aware of any other time the state has turned down a program with a nine-to-one match,” Weisgrau said.

Alliance for a Healthy Kansas statistics show 268 uninsured people in Marion County would gain coverage if Medicaid were expanded. The county would see a $1.8 million boost in health care spending with 46 new jobs created.

Weisgrau said the state would also save money spent on corrections, because people with mental illness but no health insurance cannot afford to get treatment and often end up in jail or prison.

Nearly $3.6 billion in federal funds would return to Kansas if it expands Medicaid.

“Imagine if that money had come back to Kansas,” Weisgrau said. “That spending is on health care. Hospitals are going to hire more nurses.”

Weisgrau said an economist at Kansas State University estimated 13,000 new jobs would be created statewide if the state expands KanCare.

“There is evidence that expanding the Medicare program actually controls the rise in health insurance costs,” Weisgrau said.

That’s because hospitals and physicians have to charge insured patients more to offset the losses from uninsured patients. Overall costs charged to insurance companies would be reduced. Expanding KanCare will also reduce the number of people overwhelmed with medical debt, he said.

Weisgrau said the state has not been able to expand KanCare because it had a governor and legislators who opposed it. Now the political climate has changed and the state has a governor who strongly supports expansion.

In March, the House voted to make more low-income people eligible for government run health insurance, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. The bill fell one vote short of getting onto the state senate’s calendar in May. Gov. Laura Kelly has made Medicaid expansion a priority and lawmakers have said they plan to introduce another bill in 2020.

Groups are meeting before the 2020 legislative session begins to work on expansion of health care access, Weisgrau said.

“It’s really important that the whole conversation has changed,” Weisgrau said. “We were talking about whether we should expand Medicaid. Now we are talking about how it should look.”

Weisgrau encouraged people to contact their legislators to say where they stand.

About 150,000 Kansans don’t qualify for KanCare but earn too much to receive subsidies to help them purchase private insurance. People who have no income but who would be able to work do not qualify for either KanCare or subsidies.

Last modified Oct. 31, 2019

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