Editorial: More reason for Medicaid

It should come as no surprise that the percentage of uninsured Kansans is now higher than the national average.

According to new U.S. Census Bureau data, in 2013, 12.3 percent of Kansans were uninsured compared with 14.5 percent nationally. In 2016, 8.7 percent of Kansans were uninsured compared with 8.6 percent nationally. Kansas ranked 21st in 2013, but had fallen to 32nd by 2016. Only seven states and the District of Columbia had smaller drops in the percentage of uninsured from 2013 to 2016 than Kansas.

The health insurance data is further evidence that Kansas’ stubborn refusal to participate in Medicaid expansion allowed by the Affordable Care Act has hindered Kansans — the poor in particular — from getting health insurance coverage.

Gov. Sam Brownback has been an outspoken critic of the ACA, or Obamacare as it’s more commonly known. As a member of Congress in 2009, Brownback voted against the legislation creating the ACA. And since being elected governor in 2010, Brownback has fought Obamacare at every turn.

Most recently, Brownback vetoed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion bill during the 2017 session. That bill would have expanded Medicaid coverage, or KanCare, to all individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. State officials estimated the bill would have extended coverage to an additional 152,000 people in Kansas. That’s more than half of the 249,000 Kansans the Census Bureau says are uninsured.

Robert St. Peter, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Institute, said the statistics show Kansas government has mostly ignored opportunities to use Obamacare to help residents.

“For example, the level of outreach and enrollment to let people know that they may be able to buy affordable, private insurance on the marketplace. Or that even without expansion, they or their children might already be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP,” he said. “To the extent states failed to do that, it undoubtedly led to fewer persons being insured, especially among working families that are low or middle income.”

The good news is that Kansas will soon have the opportunity to try again. Brownback is expected to be confirmed as ambassador at large for international religious freedom in the coming weeks, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will take over as governor. Colyer has been a vocal opponent of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. But with strong legislative and voter support for expansion and recent bipartisan overtures in Congress about fixing Obamacare, Medicaid expansion could be a priority in 2018.

Maybe then Kansas can go back to being a leader in health insurance coverage for its residents.