‘We cannot afford not to expand Medicaid’: COVID-19 brings concerns for the uninsured

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – For the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of people are without health insurance. According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, more than 18 million Americans who are at an increased risk of getting a severe form of the coronavirus, either don’t have health insurance or have very little insurance.

Retired Doctor Robert H. Cox was one of the first to push Kansas to use telemedicine almost three decades ago.

“Kansas was one of four states that started that in the early nineties,” explained Cox.

Following his path to getting telemedicine normalized in the state, Cox says he realized that healthcare must be accessible to all.

“Whether it’s distance or finances, insurance, time, pride, whatever it is, if there’s increased resistance, there’s decreased access,” added Cox.

Kansas taxpayers pay into the Federal Medicaid Expansion fund, but without legislation passed, the state is not accessing expanded Medicaid benefits. It has been estimated that 130-150,000 Kansans could benefit from expansion. According to health care professionals, expansion would also benefit hospitals, which would see an increase in funding and patients.

“They get insured, they start using the healthcare system more, they become healthier in the long run and they’re better off as individuals…and the health care sector benefits,” said Kenny Wilk, Vice President of Governmental and Community Affairs with the University of Kansas Health System.

Under Medicaid Expansion, Kansas would pay for 10% of the cost and the Federal Government would pay 90%. This would bring in one billion dollars to the state. It’s estimated that it would cost Kansas approximately $18 million each year. Opponents argue that the state cost is too much to take on right now, as Kansas faces a budget deficit of $653 million.

“If you hear from people that we can’t afford to do this, my response it that we cannot afford not to expand Medicaid,” said Cox.

Kansas lawmakers spent much of the 2020 legislative session debating Medicaid Expansion, which began the year with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. From there, Senate President Susan Wagle said she would not let Medicaid Expansion be voted on in the Senate until a constitutional amendment on abortion was passed. The amendment would have given the legislature the power to regulate abortions in the state, it did not pass. Wagle, and other conservative lawmakers, said they would not support expansion because taxpayer money could be used for abortions; however, that was proven to not be the case.

Representative Jim Ward was one of many democratic lawmakers to attempt to push Medicaid Expansion through before the legislative session ended. Ward brought up expansion for a possible vote on the House floor during the June 3rd special session, but it was voted down. All House democrats and two House republicans voted in favor of expansion.

“The time for excuses is over. We should have taken action in special session,” said Ward. ” We should take action immediately on return to Topeka next year.”

Opponents of expansion also argue that able-bodied people should have to work for their health insurance. Ward argues that, right now, many people are out of work and without insurance. He adds that people can’t work unless they are healthy.

“The benefit for the state is that a healthier workforce is a better workforce and we get more productivity in our workplace,” said Ward.

Ward says he is optimistic that Medicaid Expansion will pass next year. He says that it is just one vote shy of passing in the Senate.

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