Author: Craig Kennedy
December 17, 2021
The Topeka Capital Journal
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having access to affordable health care. But in Kansas, comprehensive insurance coverage remains out of reach for more than 139,000 low-income adults that could be insured through Medicaid.
For these individuals, COVID-19 not only poses a threat to their lives, but also their financial livelihoods, if they are forced to pay for costly medical treatment without insurance coverage.
As we all know, when people lack health insurance, they often delay receiving care until it becomes urgent. As a result, uninsured individuals face worse health care outcomes, including higher rates of mortality and morbidity from the same conditions as their insured peers.
Routine and preventive services are a crucial component of health care, and by denying insurance coverage to over 139,000 Kansans who could be insured through Medicaid expansion, lawmakers are putting those citizens’ health — and in some cases, their lives — at risk.
Receiving care when it becomes an emergency is clearly more costly than routine care — for the uninsured, for hospitals, and for taxpayers. When hospitals provide emergency services for an uninsured individual who cannot pay, the uncompensated cost is shared by the hospital and taxpayers.
Federal and state government spend billions in taxpayer dollars each year reimbursing these uncompensated care costs, and even still, dozens of rural hospitals in underserved areas are closing their doors each year as they operate on thin or negative margins.
Over a decade ago, the Affordable Care Act created an option for states to expand Medicaid coverage to all adults with incomes less than 138% of the federal poverty level — only $21,960 for a family of three. Since then, 38 states and the District of Columbia have implemented Medicaid expansion, securing access to crucial health care services for millions of previously uninsured Americans.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, states implementing Medicaid expansion have improved overall mortality rates, including rates for individuals with specific health conditions. Expansion states have also reduced racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities, saved money in their budgets and boosted their economies.
People who have argued that Medicaid expansion would be too costly to taxpayers should be made aware that taxpayers and rural hospitals are already bearing the costs of forgoing this insurance expansion. Medicaid coverage would be cheaper and more efficient than the current system and protect Kansas’ crucial rural hospitals.
A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the over $450 million in enhanced federal funding included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 would more than cover the cost of Medicaid expansion in Kansas, netting the state more than $250 million in relief funding over the next year if the Legislature takes action. However, a bipartisan Medicaid expansion proposal died last year when the Senate refused to allow it to come up for a vote.
At a time when the need for health insurance is especially critical and when states’ citizens, economies, and budgets face uncertainties related to the pandemic, state lawmakers in Kansas’ Senate chose to leave nearly half a billion dollars for the uninsured on the table.
Medicaid expansion in Kansas is long overdue. We know the benefit of Medicaid expansion to low-income uninsured individuals, to our rural hospitals and to the state budget. Now is the time to protect the health and livelihoods of Kansans and expand Medicaid.
Craig Kennedy is the president and CEO of Medicaid Health Plans of America.