Thursday, April 24, 2014

Report: Medicaid expansion would boost Kansas economy

KHI News Service

TOPEKA, KAN. — A new report from the Kansas Center for Economic Growth concludes that Medicaid expansion would be a boon to the state's economy and be particularly helpful in rural areas where higher percentages of workers lack good health coverage.

The center is a nonprofit group that promotes "balanced policies that help ensure all Kansans prosper."

The issue brief, released today, was underwritten by Kansas Grantmakers in Health, a consortium of the state's major health care foundations, including the Kansas Health Foundation, which is the major funder of the Kansas Health Institute and others that also help underwrite the KHI News Service.

"Expanding Medicaid is a smart investment in Kansas' workforce," said Brenda Sharpe, chief executive of the REACH Healthcare Foundation. "When employees have health coverage they are healthier and more productive, which contributes to business growth and a strong economy."

According to the report, counties in the state's rural southwest that have the highest percentages of uninsured workers could be among the biggest beneficiaries of expansion.

Nearly 7 percent of all Kansas workers in 150 industries have no health insurance, according to the report, including the thousands working in major but relatively low-paying sectors such as retail sales, child care, nursing and food service.

As many as 100,000 uninsured Kansans could gain coverage if Kansas policymakers chose to expand the program, the report stated.

Currently, parents in a family of three earning more than $6,531 a year do not qualify for Medicaid, which in Kansas is known as KanCare. Adults without children cannot qualify unless they are poor and disabled due to age or other causes. Kansas has among the most restrictive eligibility requirements in the nation.

If the state expanded the program in keeping with the Affordable Care Act, individuals earning up to $16,105 per year could qualify, or $27,310 for a family of three.

Among the benefits of expansion, according to the report:

  • An influx of federal dollars into the state economy.
  • Additional revenue for the small, rural, critical-access hospitals across the state.
  • Job growth.
  • The Kansas Hospital Association and some other business and trade groups also are supporting Medicaid expansion.
"The Greater Kansas City Chamber has been fully supportive of Medicaid expansion for two important reasons," said Jim Heeter, the group's chief executive in a prepared statement. "First, it makes good economic sense. Second, we believe that as a community, we take care of everyone, particularly with something as important as health care."

The Kansas Legislature earlier this year passed legislation saying the state could not expand Medicaid without express legislative approval.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has generally been hostile to Medicaid expansion and other major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, has said he doubts the federal government would fulfill the law's promise to fund most of the costs of Medicaid expansion.