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Sebelius promotes Obamacare in Kansas City

Updated: 2014-02-04T06:32:22Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

It is a moral and financial imperative for Missouri and Kansas to expand their Medicaid programs, President Barack Obama’s champion in chief for the Affordable Care Act said this morning in Kansas City.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged state legislators to accept federal Medicaid expansion funds available to Missouri, Kansas and other states that haven’t bought into a key facet of health care reform.

Sebelius said there is a lot of misinformation that expansion would add to the deficit or that states would be stuck with higher costs indefinitely. In reality, states have the freedom “to come in and out” and that “you can expand for a couple of years or withdraw,” she said in an interview.

Meanwhile, Sebelius said, Missouri taxpayers are missing out on about $5 million a day in federal funds since Jan. 1 that could help pay for 100 percent of health care for low-income residents. In Kansas, the loss amounts to about $1.5 million day. In Texas on Friday, she put that state’s loss of federal funds at $18 million a day.

Under terms of the ACA, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the expanded Medicaid coverage for three years and at least 90 percent of the costs after that. Missouri and Kansas governments have so far declined to participate in Medicaid expansion or to create state-based health exchanges.

The secretary said she’s pleased that 31 governors, including 11 Republicans, have moved ahead or intend to move ahead with Medicaid expansion in their states and “I’m kind of encouraged.”

Sebelius used her Kansas City podium at the Full Employment Council to urge uninsured individuals to shop for subsidy-eligible health plans on the federal exchange, saying that the federal website is much improved and that people can enroll for health insurance policies in just 30 minutes.

By the end of January, about 9 million Americans had signed up for health insurance under ACA programs, about 3 million obtaining coverage offered by private insurance companies participating on the exchanges and about 6.3 million getting new or renewed Medicaid coverage, Sebelius said. Another 3 million were young adults gaining coverage on their parents’ plans.

As the government’s top official charged with implementing the ACA, Sebelius has been on a whistlestop tour of the country, standing with city mayors — as she did today with Mayor Sly James of Kansas City — to direct people to www.healthcare.gov.

“The ACA may not be perfect,” James said. “But it’s a big step in the right direction.”

James urged area residents to put politics aside and focus on enrollments rather than the faulty website that ruined the planned startup.

Persons needing help to navigate the site can find area experts at localhelp.healthcare.gov.

Sebelius also was joined by Bridget McCandless, who leads the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. The foundation is helping fund an outreach program to reach uninsured people and encourage enrollment.

The outreach, to be known as CoverKC, will use mail, phone calls and door-to-door canvassing to find uninsured individuals and tell them about enrollment options.

According to HHS data, about 16 percent of Missourians, or about 800,000 residents, are uninsured and eligible for coverage through the ACA.

That includes about 125,000 people in the Kansas City metro area, Sebelius said.

Sebelius said that, so far, about 3 million people nationally have signed up for 2014 coverage, That is less than half of the 7 million that the Congressional Budget Office estimated was necessary to make the ACA successful.

The secretary said she was more concerned about getting a good balance in the risk pool, including healthy, younger people as well as individuals who previously weren’t able to get insurance because of pre-existing conditions or expense.

She said 24 percent of enrollments have been by individuals under age 35.

Enrollments can continue through March to obtain coverage this year, as mandated by the ACA.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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