New report shows KanCare expansion would improve behavioral health care access

A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says approximately 34,000 uninsured people with a mental illness or substance use disorder have incomes that would qualify them for health coverage, if Kansas were to expand its Medicaid program, known as KanCare.

With KanCare coverage, these Kansans would have been able to get treatment before their illness becomes a crisis, said Rick Cagan, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness-Kansas, which is a member organization of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

“Without health coverage, services are too often provided in crisis situations,” Cagan said. “And too often this results in lost opportunities to intervene early to prevent violence and suicide. Expanding KanCare would qualify these Kansans for essential health benefits, including mental health and substance abuse treatment in their communities.”

In Kansas, untreated mental illness is associated with an estimated 128 suicides, 21,000 incarcerations and 29,000 unemployed adults, costing the private sector, including employers, nearly $429 million per year. Unrealized earnings for individuals due to unemployment, disability, institutionalization, or suicide amount to approximately $522 million annually, according to the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

Untreated mental illness also costs the state money that could be saved with KanCare expansion. In fiscal year 2014, Kansas spent $69 million in state general funds for mental health programs and $6.3 million for substance abuse treatment. With expanded KanCare, many, perhaps most, of the individuals who rely on these state programs would gain KanCare coverage and the state could reduce its spending, according to a study released in December. The savings generated from expansion could be used for reinvestment in the behavioral health delivery system or to fund the non-federal share of the costs of the expansion population.

The new report also finds that people with behavioral health needs made up a substantial share of all low-income uninsured individuals in Kansas: about 31.3 percent. Many of these Kansans will only gain access to coverage if the state expands KanCare. If Kansas expanded Medicaid, 7,000 fewer individuals would experience symptoms of depression and 10,000 additional individuals would report being in good or excellent health, the report estimates.

To date, 31 states plus D.C. have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. However, 19 states including Kansas have not yet seized this opportunity.

The full report is available at: