Iolans join in Statehouse rally – Medicaid expansion a ‘moral, not political,’ cause



March 21, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Nearly 200 people descended on the Statehouse Tuesday to voice their support for Medicaid expansion; they came away with equal amounts optimism and discouragement, according to two Iolans.
Jackie Chase and Georgia Masterson were two of the representatives in Topeka, both appearing as part of the Rural Health Initiative. The rally was organized by the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition.
“It was enough to get their notice,” Masterson said of the group’s exercise. They had the chance to discuss the topic with Rep. Kent Thompson (who both Masterson and Chase described as “open-minded” to any expansion decision), and had an appointment to meet with State Senator Caryn Tyson, who failed to show up for their meeting.
While both Masterson and Chase described the event as “optimistic,” reality quickly set in. Despite the fact surveys prove Kansans support the expansion, most politicians aren’t keen to align themselves with anything to do with the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislation.
“Until the governor’s election takes place, it’s probably not going to be something that is acted on,” Masterson said.
“They (politicians) don’t want to support something that may affect them in the future,” Chase said.
The issue is highly partisan and polarized, they said, but moreso in the Statehouse than on a local level. Masterson and Chase, Democrat and Republican, respectively, said the issue is more moral than political — at least that’s how it should be viewed.
“I think it blurs the boundaries, I’m a Republican,” Chase said. “The most important issue is the moral issue.”

ACCORDING to a report from the Kansas Health Institute, around 80,000 Kansas fall into the “Medicaid gap” that has been created by the lack of expansion. When the Affordable Care Act was drafted, Masterson said, it was designed to rely on cooperation between the state and federal government. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ACA was constitutional, they also stipulated that states could not be forced to expand the Medicaid funding.
This is where “the gap” comes into play.
Without the expansion, single, childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid despite their income and adults with children are only eligible if they earn less than 32 percent of the poverty level — around $630 a month for a three-person household, according to the KHI report.
“We are leaving the poorest of the poor out there to fend for themselves,” Chase said. “I can’t believe we would do this to our most vulnerable.”
Masterson said there is a misconception that the issues are not as urgent as people make them out to be.
“It’s not just in Topeka. I think most middle class and wealthy people don’t realize how hard it is,” Masterson said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
And the impoverished are not the only affected parties. Chase said Allen County Regional Hospital, now a county-funded entity, is facing dramatic reductions in funding from the federal government. The guidelines of the ACA anticipated Medicaid coverage to increase, reducing the support needed from the federal government. Without Medicaid expansion the hospital will not see an increase in coverage, while experiencing a reduction in funding.
“The potential for that will be devastating for our hospital,” Masterson said.
“It’s not just the hospital, it’s Allen County, it’s our own tax dollars,” Chase added. “It does hurt people in this community, not just the people who can’t get health insurance.”
All anyone can do is voice their opinion, both said, and hope that someone can see their side of the story, Masterson said.