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Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Survey reveals state’s health care weaknesses

October 23, 2001

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— One in 10 Kansans below the age of 65 is without health insurance, and more than half of those are working, according to a new survey that lawmakers Monday called the most comprehensive study ever of gaps in the Kansas health care system.

The survey, conducted by researchers at Kansas University, will be used as the foundation for legislation to try to expand health care coverage, said Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence.

The survey showed that:

An estimated 10.5 percent, or 244,880, of Kansans below the age of 65 do not have health insurance.

The number of uninsured varies by region. Southwest Kansas and the Kansas City, Kan., areas, at 16.8 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, have the largest percentages of uninsured. The Douglas and Shawnee county region had 9.3 percent uninsured.

The number of uninsured includes 56,000 children, most of whom are eligible for free or low-cost insurance through Medicaid and Healthwave.

More than a third of the uninsured are earning less than the federal poverty level, which statewide is about $17,000 annually for a family of four.

More than half of the uninsured are working but don't buy insurance, mostly because it is too expensive.

Praeger, who is chairwoman of the Senate's insurance committee and is running for insurance commissioner, said the state cannot afford to allow so many Kansans to remain uninsured.

"We pay for these costs one way or the other," Praeger said, noting that the study showed that uninsured people frequently delay medical care until they require expensive emergency treatment.

Worsening situation

And because of the slumping economy and increasing insurance costs, the situation will get worse, said Barbara Langner, director of the insurance study project and an associate professor at KU's School of Nursing.

During a meeting of a special committee on insurance, Langner talked about several interviews done for the survey.

One uninsured man lost his construction business and then delayed treatment for what turned out to be diabetes.

One couple worked at low-paying jobs but their employers did not offer insurance. A recent Mexican immigrant said she didn't buy insurance because she didn't understand what the health-care provider was trying to tell her.

"These stories are powerful. Real-life Kansans are struggling," Langner said.

The survey will be used to form a strategy on reaching the uninsured, Langner said, and then will be submitted to State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.

The survey is part of a $1.3 million federal grant project to increase health-care coverage.

Researchers surveyed 8,004 households across Kansas from March through June to compile data on 22,694 individuals.

Expensive solution

State Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita, said the survey was the first comprehensive look at health-care needs in Kansas and should be used in the legislative session that starts in January to craft a measure to expand health-care coverage, especially for the poor.

"To shelve this that would be a travesty," Feleciano said.

Praeger and Langner identified several options that may be proposed during the legislative session that starts in January.

They include expanding tax credits for employers who start providing health insurance to their workers and increasing the number of people who could be eligible for Medicaid.

Both would require more state spending at a time when budget experts predict flat state revenues.

"It will be tough," Praeger said.

But Feleciano said because of the economic downturn, the state should expand health care, "now more than ever."

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