Kansas is the only state to see a significant increase in its uninsured rate, survey says

08/05/2014 7:30 PM

08/06/2014 3:41 PM

Kansas, which has resisted expansion of its Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act, is the only state in the nation to see a significant increase in its uninsured rate this year, new Gallup poll data show.

Meanwhile, states that adopted optional parts of the Affordable Care Act programs have seen the largest declines in their uninsured rates.

The adult uninsured rate in Kansas rose from 12.5 percent last year to 17.6 percent during the first half of this year, giving the state the seventh-highest rate in the nation, according to data collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

“It’s eye-popping. Kansas really sticks out,” said Dan Witters, research director for the Well-Being Index, an ongoing national poll that surveys people’s health, relationships and finances.

Witters said that in other states uninsured rates declined or remained unchanged. Kansas was the only state with a statistically significant increase in the percentage of uninsured residents.

But Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said the number “appears to be an anomaly that needs more review. To have the uninsured jump that much in one year would be unprecedented.”

The uninsured numbers in Kansas have hovered around 12 to 13 percent for many years, Praeger said, adding, “We will try to find out where the discrepancy is.”

Witters did not offer an explanation for the growth in the uninsured population in Kansas. However, Kansas is among the states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more people with low incomes, an option through the Affordable Care Act. Kansas also did not establish its own health insurance marketplace exchange through the act. Instead, it has relied on the federal exchange, which was plagued for months with computer glitches.

The Gallup poll found that the 10 states with the largest reductions in uninsured rates this year had all expanded their Medicaid programs and had either created their own exchanges or partnered with the federal government on an exchange. Arkansas saw the steepest decline, from 22.5 percent uninsured in 2013 to 12.4 percent this year. Kentucky was second with a decline from 20.4 percent uninsured to 11.9 percent.

The uninsured rate in Missouri, which like Kansas did not expand Medicaid or create its own exchange, remained essentially flat, with 15.2 percent uninsured in 2013 and 15.1 percent uninsured this year.

Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Wichita-based Kansas Health Foundation, which funds health education and promotion programs, reacted to the new data with frustration. The foundation has been among several charitable health organizations serving Kansas that have supported the expansion of Medicaid in the state.

“It continues to be disappointing that Kansas has not taken advantage of the opportunity to insure more people,” Coen said in a statement. “Up to 100,000 low-income Kansans are losing out on much-needed health insurance.”

Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said Medicaid enrollment had increased in Kansas by 6 percent in the past year.

“This indicates access to Medicaid is not driving any reported increase in the number of uninsured in our state,” she said. “Rather, any reported increase in the uninsured most likely is driven by increasing costs and lack of access to private insurance that are a result of Affordable Care Act mandates and requirements.”

The Gallup-Healthways polls have found that the rate of adults nationwide who reported being without health insurance had been increasing slowly from 14.8 percent in 2008 to a peak of 18 percent in the third quarter of 2013, the three months immediately preceding the opening of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. By the second quarter of 2014, the national uninsured rate had dropped to 13.4 percent, the lowest quarterly rate in more than six years, according to the polls.

To reach Alan Bavley, call 816-234-4858 or send email to abavley@kcstar.com.

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