By Sheldon Weisgrau | July 30, 2019

Fifty-four years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson traveled to Independence, Missouri, and signed the Social Security Amendments into law, creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs. These two programs – which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan votes – have served as foundations of the health care system and today provide coverage to more than 110 million Americans, including nearly 900,000 Kansans.

As we work to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 150,000 additional Kansans, it’s worthwhile to reflect on the impact of the program on those it serves. More than 400,000 Kansans – most of them children – are covered by Medicaid. Other beneficiaries include low-income parents, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and seniors. Medicaid pays for more than one-third of all births in Kansas and a majority of nursing home care. It is a vital lifeline for Kansans in their times of greatest vulnerability and need.

Those covered by Medicaid are more likely to receive preventive care, successfully quit smoking, and fill their prescriptions than those without insurance. Medicaid serves as the leading payer for mental health, substance use disorder, and family planning services. The program reduces racial and ethnic health disparities and by enhancing detection and treatment of illness, Medicaid coverage reduces mortality.

Medicaid provides other benefits as well. It improves school attendance, high school graduation, and college enrollment rates. Children who are covered by Medicaid earn more and require less health care as adults. By eliminating catastrophic out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income Kansans, Medicaid reduces debt and helps lift families out of poverty. The program also reinvests tax dollars into the economy, creating jobs in Kansas communities and supporting rural hospitals and other health providers.

For more than half a century, Medicaid has delivered a valuable return on investment by providing a safety net for low-income Americans. As we celebrate its birthday and push to bring health coverage to more Kansans, we remember the words of President Johnson in 1965 and direct them to Kansas legislators today:

“Few can see past the speeches and the political battles to the doctor over there that is tending the infirm, and to the hospital that is receiving those in anguish, or feel in their heart painful wrath at the injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor. And fewer still have the courage to stake reputation, and position, and the effort of a lifetime upon such a cause… There is another tradition that we share today. It calls upon us never to be indifferent toward despair. It commands us never to turn away from helplessness. It directs us never to ignore or to spurn those who suffer untended in a land that is bursting with abundance.”

Sheldon Weisgrau is the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas’ Senior Policy Adviser. Contact Sheldon at sheldon@expandkancare.com.