The elections in November, particularly in Kansas, are the most important elections for the health of our region in a very long time.
In 2017 Medicaid expansion was passed by the Kansas legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor Brownback. Surveys show that 82% of Kansas residents approve of Medicaid expansion, but current and recent Governors have refused to change their position, refusing to expand Medicaid.
There is a lot of talk about the health needs in our communities and the importance of elevating people out of poverty. Wyandotte County, for example, ranks near the highest on the list of counties in Kansas when it comes to families living in poverty, uninsured residents and unemployment rates. On the other side, the county ranks at the bottom for health outcomes like adult obesity, teen pregnancy and smoking rates.
However, the position of the state’s current approach is to shrink Medicaid and add requirements that are impossible for prospective recipients to meet.
Recently, Governor Colyer organized an Opioid Task Force to focus on ways to solve the epidemic plaguing so many communities in Kansas and beyond. The task force worked hard to find potential solutions, all of which are stronger when more of our citizens have access to health care via Medicaid expansion. Eventually, the task force chair agreed to support the recommendation that Kansas expand Medicaid, but that came after weeks of blocking the recommendation.
The most effective path to improve the health and well-being of the most vulnerable people in our community is to shift the perspective on this important issue – Medicaid expansion isn’t the problem, it is the solution.
Ohio, one of 17 states with Republican Governors that expanded Medicaid, recently released a report on their success. The data reflects some remarkable results that could be replicated in Kansas.
• The uninsured rate dropped from 32% in 2012 to 9.3% in 2017.
• Of the people who enrolled in expansion, then disenrolled, 71% did so because they got jobs that provided insurance or their earnings rose enough to disqualify them.
• Nearly 26,000 used Medicaid smoking-cessation programs to quit smoking.
• 96% of enrollees who had an opioid-use disorder received treatment.
• 83% of beneficiaries say it is easier to work compared to before they had insurance.
• 57% of parents enrolled found it easier to provide food and shelter for their families.
• Use of primary care has increased and emergency room utilization has decreased.
It is clear from this research that, regardless of the politics of the state, Medicaid expansion is beneficial for the state and its citizens. The decision we face in Kansas in November may be our final opportunity to express our support for a program that is critical to the overall health of our state.
Patrick Sallee is the CEO of Vibrant Health. Patrick has spent his career in the non-profit world because it allows him to pursue the issues he’s passionate about: providing opportunities for children, helping others, fighting for the underrepresented, and building communities. Patrick spends his spare time with his wife Chesney and twin daughters Avery and Makenna. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org