The uninsured rates in Kansas and Missouri continue to drop.
But they’re declining faster in states that have expanded Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.
New data out Tuesday from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Kansas’ uninsured rate dropped to 9.1 percent in 2015, down from 10.2 percent the year before and 12.3 percent in 2013.
Over the three-year period, the number of Kansans age 19 to 64 without coverage has declined by about 87,000, dropping from 348,000 to 261,000.
In Missouri, the drop from 13 percent to 9.8 percent means that approximately 190,000 residents have gained coverage since 2013 when the number of uninsured totaled about 773,000.
Nationally, the share of uninsured Americans shrank to 9.4 percent, the lowest level since before the Great Recession.
The latest numbers are from the American Community Survey, one of two data sets the Census Bureau uses to measure health coverage.
The federal Affordable Care Act is the primary reason for the improvement in the numbers, says Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, an initiative funded in part by Kansas and Missouri health foundations that support the ACA.
“The main reason is the availability of insurance through the Affordable Care Act, which allows people to get tax credits and subsidies to help them buy private insurance,” Weisgrau says. “But another reason is that the economy continues to improve, and that’s putting more people into insurance.”
Still, there are concerns about the ACA health insurance marketplace. Several insurance companies have withdrawn because of financial losses. And those that remain are raising premiums ahead of the 2017 enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1.
Uninsured rates are declining more rapidly in the 32 states and District of Columbia that have expanded Medicaid.
Kansas and Missouri are among 19 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid to cover adults earning below 138 percent of the federal poverty rate: $16,394 a year for individuals and $33,534 for a family of four.
On average, the uninsured rate in non-expansion states is 12.3 percent, compared with 7.2 percent in states that have expanded eligibility.
Amy Blouin, executive director of the Missouri Budget Project, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing for expansion, says an estimated 583,000 Missourians — about one in 10 — still lack insurance.
“Missourians are still struggling, and our state is losing out,” Blouin says.
Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders have blocked consideration of expansion, citing its potential cost to the state. They also object to expanding coverage to non-disabled adults until thousands of people with developmental disabilities are cleared from a waiting list for Medicaid support services.
In Missouri, expansion is an issue in the race for governor between Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens.
Koster says the $2 billion in additional federal funds that the state would receive is critical to the survival of rural hospitals. Greitens and Republican lawmakers in Jefferson City say the federal government can’t be trusted to follow the law, which requires it to permanently cover no less than 90 percent of the costs of expansion.
Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.
Editor’s note: The Kansas Health Foundation is the primary funder of the Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of the editorially independent KHI News Service. KHI News is a partner in Heartland Health Monitor.