Kansas Insurance Commissioner and former mayor of Lawrence Sandy Praeger spoke to a group at the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence about the need for Kansas to expand Medicaid coverage Sunday morning.
Kansas is one of 24 states that has not accepted a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would allow states to receive federal funds to pay for 100 percent of Medicaid expansion for the first three years and no less than 90 percent after that.
“We’re sending our dollars to Washington, and they’re going to other states who are expanding their Medicaid,” Praeger told the audience.
If Kansas accepted the proposal, tens of thousands of additional low-income Kansans would have access to Medicaid, Praeger said. Currently, she said, there is no Medicaid coverage for adults without children, and residents whose income is between 32 percent and 70 percent of the federal poverty level cannot receive insurance under the ACA.
“We have a lot of folks who can’t afford their health care,” Praeger said. “People don’t choose to get sick.”
Opponents in Kansas, including Gov. Sam Brownback, say they don't trust the federal government to follow through on its commitments to fund the expansion and that the costs of the program would take away from spending on core services like education.
Praeger, whose husband was a physician in Lawrence before his recent retirement, said opponents argue universal health care already exists by way of requiring emergency rooms to treat patients regardless of whether they can pay. But for Praeger and other advocates for the expansion, that’s not enough.
“It’s not health care when people end up in emergency rooms,” Praeger said. “That’s sick care.”
Looking forward, Praeger told the group to get active if they want to be part of the change. Praeger said a majority of Kansans want the expansion, pointing to a recent poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that said 72 percent of Kansans support accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid.
“I think eventually states will have to participate in Medicaid,” Praeger said. “It just doesn’t make sense at all.”
Praeger is part of a group of six Kansas leaders – three Democrats and three Republicans including Lt. Governor candidate Jill Docking, former Lt. Governor Sheila Frahm and Kansas Democratic Party chair Joan Wagnon – who founded the grassroots coalition “Reroute the Roadmap.” According to the coalition’s website, the group exists to “fight the extreme, failed policies of the Brownback administration.”
Along with opposing the state’s tax reform measures and “inadequate” school funding, Praeger said, the coalition works to inform the public about the effects of the decision not to expand Medicaid.
“We’re not advocating for anyone to be elected or defeated,” Praeger said. “We just want to get the information out there.”