Sheldon Weisgrau and David Jordan: We must expand Medicaid in Kansas

Why does health coverage matter?

Ask Suzan Emmons, a self-employed business owner in Allen County. She lost her health insurance when she attained guardianship of her grandchildren. With the increased household size, she dropped below the income eligibility requirement to receive financial help to buy private insurance. Yet, she still makes too much to qualify for KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Now she waits to have recommended tests because she knows if the outcomes require medical treatment, she won’t be able to afford it. So, instead, she worries about what might be.

Or ask physician Eric Voth with Stormont-Vail Health, who had a former patient with an infection who didn’t qualify for KanCare. After delaying care because he could not afford it, bacteria eroded through his aorta valve. They took him to surgery and he died shortly thereafter. Had he been treated six months earlier, he probably would have been cured.

Or ask Teresa Lovelady, president and CEO at Health Core Clinic in Wichita. Her nephew Allen was a 19-year-old college student in Cowley County who worked part time at a local meatpacking plant. He was uninsured and relied on donations of insulin to treat his juvenile diabetes. Allen died over a long weekend, unable to stretch his donated insulin supply. Lovelady thinks about what might have been if he only had health insurance.

Allen’s death was entirely avoidable, the result of a decision by state legislators and the governor to ignore the opportunity to expand KanCare to cover more hardworking, low-income adults. Like Suzan and 150,000 other Kansans, he fell into what is known as the “coverage gap” — he earned too much to be eligible for KanCare, but not enough to qualify for financial assistance to help him buy private insurance.

This summer, we heard from Suzan, Teresa, Voth and dozens of others as we traveled across the state to discuss how accepting the federal funding available to expand KanCare would provide access to care for Kansans, protect hospitals and create jobs. We heard devastating stories from our neighbors, who are sick or even dying because of our state leaders’ decision to resist the Affordable Care Act.

In Independence, Mercy Hospital closed in the fall of 2015 and the lack of Medicaid expansion was consistently cited as a contributing factor. Mercy, like every hospital in Kansas, provided care to patients who could not pay because they were uninsured. Many of these patients would be covered by an expanded KanCare program.

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