A study released earlier this month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers says the decision not to expand Medicaid is costing Kansas millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
According to the study, Kansas is passing up $820 million over the next three years by choosing not to expand Medicaid eligibility. The federal government would pay for nearly all of the cost of the expansion, which would add as many as 100,000 Kansans to the state’s Medicaid rolls.
But Sean Gatewood, who heads the Kansas Health Consumers Coalition, says that is not his group's main argument for expansion of coverage.
“I represent consumers, and consumers would be greatly benefited by the improved health benefits Medicaid expansion would bring,” Gatewood says.
Medicaid expansion would help thousands of Kansans manage chronic diseases and get preventive health screenings, he say, and would protect them from financial hardships related to being uninsured.
"The financial stresses that families would not have to endure, and therefore lean on the rest of the economy," he says. "Things like borrowing money to pay for health care costs or forgoing paying other bills.”
Currently, most of the approximately 425,000 Kansans enrolled in Medicaid — called KanCare — are children, new mothers, the disabled and seniors in nursing homes. Able-bodied adults with children are eligible only if they earn less than 33 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is $7,770 annually. No matter their income, adults without children aren’t eligible unless they are disabled.
Expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to all those earning less than 138 percent of the poverty level — about $32,500 annually for a family of four.
The Council of Economic Advisers projects that Medicaid expansion would would add 3,800 jobs in Kansas over a three-year span.
A study released earlier this year by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth also outlined the potential economic effect on the state.
Gov. Sam Brownback has opposed expanding Medicaid as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. He says that the federal government can’t be trusted to make good on the financial support promised by the health reform law.
And even if the governor were to have a change of heart, the decision is no longer his alone. Kansas lawmakers passed legislation in the 2013 session that requires the governor to get legislative approval before going ahead with Medicaid expansion.
Kansas is one of 21 states to reject expansion. Of the 30 remaining states, 26 have implemented some version of expansion. The issue is still being debated in the other three.
A “ticker” on the Kansas Hospital Association website keeps track of how much federal money the state has forgone since the first of the year by not expanding Medicaid. By Friday afternoon it had topped $184 million.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for Kansas Public Radio.