Great Bend Tribune Op-Ed: What will it take?
By: Susan Thacker | February 3, 2022
A bipartisan group of legislators is interested in the idea of extending the Medicaid (KanCare) coverage for pregnant women to a full year after giving birth. This is good news. We hope it doesn’t mean the Legislature has given up on the bipartisan efforts to expand KanCare in general by accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid, as 38 other states and the District of Columbia have already done.
The Legislature should have approved Medicaid expansion years ago. A bill did make it to Governor Sam Brownback’s desk once, but it was vetoed in 2017.
Our Legislature looked at Medicaid expansion in 2020. And 2021. When Gov. Laura Kelly announced the legislation in 2021, Lt. Gov. David Toland talked about the economic advantages.
“Our economic recovery depends heavily on our ability to attract and retain businesses throughout the state,” Toland said. “Kansas has no business giving companies even one reason to look elsewhere – and I can say, unequivocally, that the availability of health-care and well-being of all Kansans matters a great deal to companies considering places to locate and grow.”
The last proposal also included legalizing medical marijuana, which would help many patients and would also help pay for the expansion. Again, our Legislature failed to act.
A 2021 report released by The Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health said if Kansas were to expand Medicaid, from 2022 to 2025 the state’s economic output would rise by $17 billion. Personal income in Kansas could also rise by $6.3 billion in those three years, particularly because of increased employment. Kansas could add nearly 23,000 new jobs if the state expanded Medicaid, the report adds.
The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas lists several benefits of expanding KanCare. It cites a study by an economist for Kansas State University who found the expansion would create 13,000 new jobs. It notes that states can tailor their expansions; Kansas could add referrals to job-training programs, incentives for healthy behaviors, and a requirement for beneficiaries to share the cost of premiums.
Having more Kansans with health insurance also reduces future increases in overall health insurance costs.
Those are all “bottom-line” reasons for expanding KanCare. An even better reason is that it will help 165,000 Kansans who cannot afford coverage. Most are working at one or more jobs, the Alliance reports. About 7,400 veterans and their spouses would gain access, too.
Expansion also protects access to care, especially in rural areas. That’s us, folks.
Now, House Democrats have announced three amendments to the Kansas constitution to expand Medicaid, legalize medical marijuana and legalize recreational marijuana. According to the Kansas Reflector (https://kansasreflector.com/2022/01/06/house-democrats-want-kansas-voters-to-decide-on-medicaid-expansion-marijuana-legalization/), if passed, the measures would go to a public vote next November. Kansas is one of 12 states yet to expand Medicaid and three states yet to have legalized marijuana in some form. Why does this require an amendment? Just pass a bill, for crying out loud. Gov. Kelly is almost sure to sign it.
We shouldn’t have to amend the constitution to get our lawmakers to do their jobs. But if that’s what it takes, many Kansans are ready to vote in November. If our lawmakers fail to do anything, that is another reason to vote.