Medicaid expansion advocates speak out



December 20, 2017 - 12:00 AM

More than 400 Allen County residents go without healthcare each day because the state of Kansas has refused to expand Medicaid — but, argues Sheldon Weisgrau, we all pay the price.
In recent years, Weisgrau has made at least a part of his living by touring the state, explaining to Kansans the dismal effects that follow from Gov. Sam Brownback’s perennial refusal to extend KanCare to the 150,000 citizens who fall within the so-called Medicaid coverage gap. If the governor’s recent statements are anything to go by — and if Kris Kobach, the perceived front-runner in next year’s gubernatorial race, has his way — Weisgrau could have a job for life.
Weisgrau, who is the the director of the Health Reform Resource Project, appeared in Iola alongside Alliance for a Healthy Kansas executive director David Jordan on Tuesday. The two addressed about 30 area residents — health care providers, business leaders, clergy, hospital staff, uninsured residents and other interested citizens — in a conference room at Allen County Regional Hospital.
In remaining one of the few states in the country to reject the assistance of federal tax dollars, said Tuesday’s speakers, Kansas has so far turned its on back $2.3 billion (a number that increases by nearly $2 million every day). Besides providing necessary health coverage to these low-income individuals — the cost of whose inevitable medical treatment, usually in the ER, is eventually assumed by taxpayers anyhow — the expansion of KanCare would, argues Weisgrau, act as an economic stimulus for the state, adding more than 3,800 new jobs. “You saw the governor and the lieutenant governor jumping up and down last week about Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita expanding and creating 1,000 jobs,” said Weisgrau. “[Medicaid expansion] means four times as many.” Besides the additional new providers and hospital staff that would be required to deal with the addition of 150,000 new, fully-funded patients to the rolls, the boon to the local economy would be huge. “If we were to enroll into Medicaid [the 400 people in Allen County who fall into the coverage gap],” continued Weisgrau, “that would create almost $2 million a year in additional health spending. And most of that would be spent right here in this county.”
According to polls, noted Weisgrau, between 70 and 80 percent of Kansans support Medicaid expansion, including two-thirds of Republicans.
Both speakers encouraged those in attendance to thank their local representatives, Adam Lusker and Kent Thompson, for supporting KanCare expansion in the most recent round of voting. “We expect them to continue that support,” said Weisgrau, “and you’re going to make sure that they do. Sen. [Caryn] Tyson, however, does not support the Medicaid expansion. … She needs to know that this is going to hurt her campaign for Congress and it’s going to hurt her in her bid if she wants to get re-elected as a senator. We need to let her know these facts.” A murmur of assent went round the room, and a number of people promised to get in touch.


PHOTO: A crowd of about 30 heard advocates for expanded Medicaid services in Kansas Tuesday at Allen County Regional Hospital. REGISTER/RICK DANLEY

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