Guest Commentary

Gov. Laura Kelly: Expand Medicaid for the benefit of all Kansans

With every passing day, more Kansans feel the impact of the state’s failure to expand Medicaid. It’s our neighbor struggling to get access to affordable health care. It’s a friend who works full-time — and works hard — but can’t afford private insurance or a doctor’s visit. It’s a working mother who can’t get mental health services to address her undiagnosed depression. It’s a young person with a disability who can’t get the health coverage he needs to continue working.

To date, Kansas has sent more than 3.4 billion of our tax dollars to be used by other states to pay for their health care. That’s money that could go toward making Kansans healthier. It would also help Kansans who fall in the coverage gap — where they make slightly too much to get traditional Medicaid, but not nearly enough to afford private health insurance.

It’s not just patients who stand to lose if we fail to expand Medicaid. Our communities and local hospitals are struggling. According to some reports, 30 percent of our state’s hospitals are considered financially vulnerable. In small communities across our state, these facilities are at serious risk of closure.

Unfortunately, some Republican leaders refuse to listen to the experts or acknowledge the success of the 36 states that have already expanded Medicaid. They continue to ignore the resounding support voiced by Kansas families, businesses, child advocates and health care providers.

Last week, I convened a meeting with some of those leaders. The goal was to bring people together to hammer out a plan and negotiate in good faith. However, they made it very clear that they had no desire to negotiate or move forward this year.

During the meeting, they presented no plan. Instead, they offered only excuses to delay action.

They worried that the actual costs would exceed estimates, even though that has not been the experience of other states. In fact, a study by the National Association of State Budget Offices found that “there were no significant increases in spending from state funds as a result of the expansion.”

They also falsely stated that many people who would benefit from expansion are unemployed. According to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, a majority of the Medicaid expansion population is already working — more than 60%. And Medicaid expansion would help individuals with mental health issues get back into the workforce.

A few Republican leaders also pointed out that expansion would not save all rural hospitals from closure. It is true that rural hospitals face numerous challenges and expansion won’t solve all of them. But it is also true that all rural hospitals will benefit from Medicaid expansion proportionately, more than urban hospitals.

Many hospitals — both urban and rural — have high rates of uncompensated care. That means they are providing health care services for folks who can’t afford to pay. By expanding Medicaid, we can help their bottom line and infuse millions into our state’s economy.

Expanding Medicaid is a commonsense, proven way to strengthen our state.

During the last decade, it has been thoroughly vetted, with more than 300 studies confirming its effectiveness and necessity. We know with certainty that it will strengthen our economy, save taxpayer dollars and provide health care to roughly 150,000 Kansans.

It’s time to move forward.

Last month, a bipartisan coalition in the Kansas House came together to pass expansion. It was a big step forward, and I commend their courage and determination. Since then, Republican leadership in the Senate has stood in the way of a vote. Despite broad support, Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning have been obstructing progress.

Our friends, families and neighbors need Medicaid expansion. Not only is it sound policy — it is the right thing to do. It’s time for the leaders in the Kansas Senate to get it done. I challenge legislators to join me in this good faith effort and enact Medicaid expansion before the 2019 legislative session adjourns.

Laura Kelly is governor of Kansas.

  Comments