Let’s accept the gift of Medicaid expansion

By April Holman | May 13, 2020

My first six years after law school were spent working for the Kansas Legislative Research Department. I couldn’t have asked for a greater group of people to work with or for a more exciting environment. The first year was at the very end of the era of plenty.

In those days, the economy was booming and state revenues poured in at a rate that exceeded the official estimates year after year. My colleagues and I spent many sleepless nights during that first session staffing budget committees as lawmakers tousled over how to spend the windfall. My switch to staffing the tax and economic development committees coincided with a dramatic end to the state revenue boom. As a junior member of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, I experienced first-hand the level of research, discussion and expertise that went into the official revenue estimates. However, in spite of our best efforts, it was difficult to anticipate the drop in sales tax revenues that was compared to a marble rolling off the table. Income taxes soon followed, and before long lawmakers were looking for ways to raise revenues just to keep basic state infrastructure intact.

I can’t help but think that if the federal government had offered to send nearly three quarters of a billion dollars a year to stimulate the Kansas economy and provide desperately needed health coverage to 150,000 Kansans during those times it would have been seen as gift from God. These are different times, but rarely does an opportunity from the federal government offer so much benefit to a state for as little investment as Medicaid expansion. This is particularly true in the era of COVID-19 and the economic fallout that goes with it.

Kansas is experiencing historic levels of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely result in significant state budget cuts in the upcoming year. Medicaid expansion would help to fuel the recovery by infusing approximately $700 million annually into the Kansas economy and generating an estimated 13,000 new jobs.

With record numbers of jobs lost in the past two months in our state, Medicaid expansion would allow workers who lose their employer sponsored health insurance along with their job, to access affordable health coverage to maintain their health and help to drive the economic recovery.

Expansion will help to bolster health care providers, hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic. It also would help essential workers who are putting their health on the line every day during the Coronavirus crisis. Those who work in grocery stores and pharmacies, home health workers in nursing homes, front office staff at hospitals and health clinics – these are often the workers who are uninsured and could be covered if our state expanded Medicaid.

Rarely does one public policy address as many problems as Medicaid expansion. This is only magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time when everyone is struggling, expansion would help consumers, health care providers, communities, businesses and the economy. All that is left is to accept the federal offer of help. The case for Medicaid expansion in Kansas has never been clearer or more compelling.

April Holman is the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas’ executive director. Contact April at april@expandkancare.com.