Medicaid expansion a real opportunity

opinions

January 9, 2014 - 12:00 AM

A real opportunity awaits Kansas legislators.
By expanding the limits of KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, legislators will enable tens of thousands of Kansans to receive health benefits, easing the burden on hospitals and social services that treat the uninsured.
Kansas has one of the most restrictive Medicaid plans in the nation. Currently, a family of three can earn no more than $6,445 a year to receive benefits.
If the Medicaid guidelines were expanded, that same family could receive KanCare benefits with a household income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,975.
In Kansans, only low-income children, pregnant women and the elderly are eligible for KanCare. Those without children, no matter their lack of income, cannot receive assistance. Including individuals, no matter their parental status, should be addressed
Kansas is in a unique position in that it has a large class of people who are too “rich” to qualify for Medicaid, but too poor to qualify for the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, which begin at 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
These people fall into what is called the Medicaid Gap and include an estimated 85,000 uninsured Kansans.
Besides helping Kansas’ poor, the expanded program would bring an influx of money and create a boatload of new jobs.
According to a report for the Kansas Health Institute, approximately 3,400 new jobs would be created this year if Medicaid were expanded. By saying no, we are thumbing our noses at $334 million in federal funds which would help pay for new jobs in hospitals, clinics, nursing and other health facilities.
The federal government has agreed to fund the program at 100 percent up through 2016 and by 90 percent from then on out. That infusion would free up other funds in the Kansas Medicaid program that could be directed to our mental health centers and MediKan, the program that helps those waiting in limbo while their status of disability is determined.
Starting today, the state could save $82 million over the next six years by expanding its program.
Providing more jobs and better health outcomes makes for a more vibrant state.

THAT’S THE good news.
The bad?
Republican leaders say it’s a non-starter.
Why?
Because the Affordable Care Act got off to such a rough start.
“I think it will be very difficult to do this year because of the unpredictability of the federal plan,” Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and president of the Kansas Senate, told the KHI.
“We don’t have a predictable environment to legislate from,” Wagle said.
Yes, the program got off to a rocky start. But that’s no reason to punish the poor and those who provide them services.
Kansas should hop on board — to stay afloat.
— Susan Lynn

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