Views from Kansas: Expand Medicaid

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

In 2016, Kansas voters ousted numerous state lawmakers who opposed Medicaid expansion.

The Legislature went on to pass a bill expanding the state’s Medicaid (KanCare) program for low-income and disabled people under terms of the Affordable Care Act. But then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it, and mostly because he and fellow ultraconservatives stubbornly resisted anything linked to the ACA (also known as Obamacare).

It was a heartless, irresponsible stand.

A state with persistent budget shortfalls caused by Brownback’s failed income-tax cut strategy had no business watching Kansans’ federal taxes go elsewhere, especially when those dollars would improve health outcomes and support health-care providers in the state.

The Kansas Health Institute recently reported Medicaid expansion would add 145,000 new beneficiaries (children and adults) to the KanCare rolls. Kansas’ refusal also has cost the state more than $2.9 billion in federal funds — so far — since 2014.

The federal government pays at least 90 percent of the cost for expansion, with states responsible for 10 percent by 2020. The KHI in 2016 projected the annual cost to Kansas starting at about $68 million, although the state also would save on current spending that helps cover uncompensated care for uninsured patients.

Medicaid woes led to the Independence hospital closing in 2015, and pending shutdown of the hospital in Fort Scott.

Governor-elect Laura Kelly’s call for Medicaid expansion helped her to victory in a state where residents polled overwhelmingly supported the change. The Democrat promised Medicaid expansion in her first year as governor, so she’ll be tested immediately by a Legislature that recently became more conservative.

Some might doubt her chances of success. But true fiscal conservatives should acknowledge the logic of Medicaid expansion. Unlike Brownback and his successor, Jeff Colyer, they should put pragmatism above politics.

They also must dismiss input from a key Medicaid-expansion opponent, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ultraconservatives too often endorse shortsighted ALEC model legislation designed to improve major corporations’ bottom lines, to include the income tax-cut scheme that hurt Kansas.

Thankfully, recent legislation restoring the lost tax revenue has improved the state’s financial situation. With rural hospitals struggling — and uninsured Kansans without access to care suffering — Medicaid expansion is a needed and healthy investment for the state and its people.

— Originally published in the Topeka Capital-Journal

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