By Don Goldman | April 15, 2021

Like many of you, I don’t typically make healthcare decisions based on the cost of services. Sadly, this is not the case for many of our clients who earn too much to qualify for the current Medicaid program in Kansas, but do not make enough money to afford quality health insurance elsewhere. When the Affordable Care Act was developed more than 10 years ago, Medicaid expansion was designed as a key part of the safety net.

In Kansas, legislators have continually passed up the opportunity to join 37 states that have adopted and implemented the expansion of Medicaid coverage to individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Medicaid expansion in would provide coverage for 165,000 Kansans including many of our clients.

In Missouri, though voters were able to approve Medicaid expansion in 2020 to extend coverage to more than 230,000 Missourians, the House recently voted down its funding, leaving the implementation of the will of the voters in the Senate’s hands.

In the meantime, people continue to be uninsured and forced to choose whether they can pay for critical care or make the next month’s rent payment. Social workers at JFS regularly work with individuals in the Medicaid coverage gap to find resources to cover medical expenses they need to continue working and remaining as healthy as possible. These resources are often limited or simply provide short-term solutions.

People in the coverage gap may often have medical expenses such as mental health therapy. Last year, JFS provided mental health counseling to 369 individuals. In Kansas, almost one-third of people who would qualify for coverage under Medicaid expansion experience mental illness or substance use disorder, with less than 14 percent receiving treatment. Coverage through Medicaid would ensure many people would be more likely to receive necessary services.

Through Medicaid expansion, JFS and other providers of mental health services in Kansas and Missouri could serve thousands more in need, providing an avenue for individuals to navigate the challenges in their lives more easily — not to mention building healthier families and communities.

Opponents in both the Kansas and Missouri legislatures cite budget shortages as a major reason for denying this coverage to their constituents even though the overall budget impact of Medicaid expansion would be offset by savings to existing health programs and increased funding from the federal government This would include additional federal incentives under the American Rescue Plan.

In fact, if Kansas had expanded Medicaid earlier, Kansas hospitals and other healthcare providers would have seen an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars to support healthcare in the state. Instead, families most in need have forgone treatment, and Kansas healthcare institutions are financially weaker today than they otherwise would have been. It’s a lose-lose situation for Kansas. It’s time to make it a win-win.

For an agency like JFS working to support and strengthen lives in Kansas City, the choice is clear: Kansas legislators must once and for all pass Medicaid expansion, and Missouri legislators must honor the will of the voters by including it in the budget being debated. And you can make a difference.

Kansans: Follow Medicaid expansion efforts and learn more about its importance through the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. Then tell your legislators you support expansion and it should be an immediate priority by the end of this legislative session.

Missourians: tell the Senate Appropriations Committee to honor the will of the voters by supporting funding for Medicaid expansion, and sign up to connect supportive constituents in key districts with their Senators so they can do the same at actionnetwork.org.

Too many of our neighbors have gone without adequate care for too long. Together, we can help change their lives for the better.

Don Goldman is Executive Director and CEO of Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City. This blog was originally posted on the JFS website.