Column: It’s time for Kansas to pass Medicaid expansion

State legislators from Wyandotte County discussed several issues, including Medicaid expansion, at a recent legislative forum at the South Branch Library, Kansas City, Kansas. Former Rep. Bill Reardon, right, was the moderator. (Staff photo)

Window on the West
Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

It’s no wonder that Medicaid expansion was on the minds of many people at a recent legislative forum in Wyandotte County.

Expanding Medicaid, sometimes called KanCare, here would benefit Wyandotte County because the county has an estimated 19 percent uninsured rate, compared to an estimated 12 percent uninsured rate in Kansas. The cost of caring for the uninsured is passed on to the hospitals and to the local communities. When state legislators vote against expanding Medicaid, instead of the federal government paying for the medical costs of the uninsured, the local communities pay for it, and there are also related costs to the state taxpayers.

Medicaid expansion received a lot of support at the Jan. 7 Wyandotte County legislative forum held at the South Branch Library, 3104 Strong Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, with about 85 people attending. It was one of many topics discussed.

“The ability to expand KanCare is a game-changer for our Kansas residents,” said Dr. Todd Jordan, president and CEO of the United Way of Wyandotte County.

Among others supporting Medicaid expansion were the Unified Government, El Centro and Unity with a Purpose.

While the expansion of Medicaid has support in Wyandotte County, including the local government and residents, and it has support from residents in Kansas as well as Gov. Laura Kelly, it could be blocked in the Legislature by lawmakers from other areas. In a former session, it was approved, but vetoed by a previous governor.

What’s holding it up now?

State Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., said that passing Medicaid expansion could be both easier and more difficult this year. That’s because the governor is now behind it, but some House members in other areas were defeated this year, and Medicaid expansion supporters were not sure if the new members supported it.

Sometimes hospitals in Kansas are faced with uninsured residents showing up in the emergency room from opioid overdoses, methamphetamine abuse, or illnesses, according to Rep. Wolfe Moore. She pointed out it would be far less expensive for the hospitals, some of which are publicly funded, if more residents qualified for Medicaid coverage and were treated at their primary care doctor’s office or a clinic rather than showing up at the emergency room, where medical care is much more expensive.

Already two hospitals in Kansas have closed in recent years, largely attributed to the costs of providing care for uninsured patients.

Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said that with state revenues up this year, this is the time to provide health insurance to an estimated 150,000 Kansans who would benefit. It would help the state, as well as the individuals, and would provide a boost to the economy. With Medicaid expansion, the state would receive an influx of federal funds that are now being spent in other states. Sen. Haley said he hoped Kansas could capitalize on this opportunity.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist., the Senate minority whip this year, said in order for Medicaid expansion to pass, more legislators would have to see it as a money-saver. Currently, some legislators think it would be costly for the state. Without Medicaid expansion, Sen. Pettey said that many persons would not be provided services such as mental health care. If more residents’ mental health care was covered by Medicaid expansion, it could result in keeping more people out of prisons, saving the state additional money, she said.

Rep. Wolfe Moore, the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the governor’s Medicaid expansion group, said that Medicaid expansion would be a positive for the state budget, plus it would help hospitals. For example, the University of Kansas Health Systems in Kansas City, Kansas, is facing a possible $50 million in uncompensated care costs. Medicaid expansion also could allow community mental health centers to help more people, she added.

Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist., is a supporter of Medicaid expansion.

“I think there’s really a chance this year,” Rep. Curtis said. “We passed it before. But until the votes are in (this year), I don’t really know.”

If residents want Medicaid expansion, they are going to have to speak up. Residents may send messages about their positions on Medicaid expansion to their state legislators:

• Sen. Kevin Braun, R-5th Dist., 785-296-7357, email Kevin.Braun@senate.ks.gov.
• Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., ranking minority member, Ethics, Elections and Local Government, phone, 785-296-7376, email David.Haley@senate.ks.gov.
• Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist., Senate minority whip, ranking minority member, Transportation Committee, 785-296-7375, email Pat.Pettey@senate.ks.gov.
• Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-33rd Dist., ranking minority member, General Government Budget Committee, D-33rd Dist., phone 785-296-8153, email tom.burroughs@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist., ranking minority member, Local Government Committee, phone 785-296-7430, email pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist., ranking minority member, Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, phone 785-296-7300, email stan.frownfelter@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Broderick Henderson, D-35th Dist., Health and Human Services Committee, phone, 785-296-7697, email broderick.henderson@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-31st Dist., ranking minority member, Federal and State Affairs Committee, phone, 785-296-7885, email louis.ruiz@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., ranking minority member, Appropriations Committee, phone 785-296-0424, email kathy.wolfemoore@house.ks.gov.
• Rep. Val Winn, D-34th Dist., House assistant minority leader and ranking minority member of the K-12 Education Budget and the Interstate Cooperation committees, phone 785-296-7630, email valdenia.winn@house.ks.gov.

Phone numbers and email addresses for other state legislators are online at www.kslegislature.org.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

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