Young, Low-Income Kansans More Likely To Be Uninsured Than Counterparts In Other States

Sep 14, 2017

Low-income Kansans are less likely to have health insurance than their counterparts in other states, according to an analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The uninsured rate among Kansans living below the federal poverty level has been worse than the national rate for many years. But the gap has widened in recent years, mainly because of the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion, said Robert St. Peter, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Kansas Health Institute. 

“Since 2014 when many states expanded Medicaid, which of course is targeted to low-income families, the gap between Kansas and the rest of the country has actually increased,” St. Peter said.

In 2014 — the first year of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion — the national uninsured rate for families living below the poverty line was 21.3 percent, compared to 24.6 percent in Kansas. In 2016, the national rate dropped to 16 percent. The Kansas rate also declined, but only to 22 percent.

The 2016 poverty threshold was annual income of $11,880 for individuals and $24,300 for a family of four.

Efforts to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income families earning up to about a third more than the poverty level — $16,040 for an individual and $32,718 for a family of four — gained traction in the 2017 session of the Kansas Legislature. Lawmakers passed an expansion plan but failed by a few votes to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the bill. 

The recent failure by Republicans in the U.S. Congress to repeal the ACA has expansion supporters in Kansas gearing up for another attempt when the 2018 legislative session convenes in January.

Related story: Kansas uninsured rate inches down while those in Medicaid expansion states plummet

The latest U.S. Census numbers show Kansans losing ground in other areas as well.

Prior to implementation of the ACA, young adults in Kansas were more likely to have health coverage than 19- to 25-year-olds across the country.

“Now, young adults in Kansas are slightly more likely to be uninsured than young adults in the rest of the country,” St. Peter said.

In 2009, the national uninsured rate for young adults stood at 31.7 percent, compared to 26.8 percent in Kansas. But Kansas lost its advantage in 2016 when the decline in its rate to 15.7 percent was exceed by a drop in the national rate to 14.1 percent.

“This isn’t unique to Kansas,” St. Peter said. “I think all of the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are seeing similar trends.”

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have expanded eligibility for their Medicaid programs. Kansas is among 19 states that haven’t

Although rejection of Medicaid expansion is the main reason uninsured rates in Kansas and other non-expansion states are declining more slowly, there are other factors, St. Peter said, explaining that some states led by governors opposed to the ACA didn’t do as much as others to help people eligible for subsidies purchase insurance in the Obamacare marketplace.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

Editor’s note: The Kansas Health Foundation, one of several regional health foundations that provide funding to the Kansas News Service, is also the primary funder of the Kansas Health Institute.