85,000 uninsured Kansans have found themselves in the so-called Medicaid gap, unable to receive federal or state funding to help cover healthcare costs. Governor Brownback has deferred the issue to state lawmakers. Many local residents spoke about the issue at a legislative forum.
On Jan. 8, nearly 200 constituents attended a public forum at the Sedgwick County Courthouse hosted by the South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation. While addressing the lawmakers, Lori Lawrence of Wichita held a three-inch stack of papers filled with the signatures of Kansans who support accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid.
“You all have seen this petition,” Lawrence said. “This is the petition. There are 3,324 signatures on this.”
She then walked the document to the delegation’s table and placed it before Chairperson Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau. Above cheers of support, Lawrence added, “That’s from across the state – not just this area.”
As it was originally designed, the Affordable Care Act would have expanded Medicaid eligibility for adults who make up to 138-percent of the federal poverty level – $15,900 for an individual and $32,400 for a family of four in 2014. The Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of Medicaid expansion. Last summer, Governor Sam Brownback opted Kansas out.
Those now in the gap are pushing lawmakers to expand Medicaid because states that do so will receive 100-percent federal funding from the government to cover the cost of new enrollees through 2017. That number will only drop by 10-percent in 2020.
At the Jan. 8 forum, Frank White of Hesston told lawmakers that Kansas is losing money by not taking federal funding.
“The refusal to participate … already cost us about $31-million in grants that we’ve refused from the federal government and there is no valid reason that Kansas should be rejecting this program,” White said.
Naydean Anderson of west Wichita, who did not attend the forum, recently learned that her wages from a part-time cashier job – $93 a week – makes her ineligible for Kansas’ current Medicaid requirements. She’s been forced to work fewer hours because she needs both a knee and a hip replacement. She received the news when she contacted a Wichita health clinic recently.
“He said, ‘Well, we’re not going to be able to help you because you don’t qualify,’ and I said, ‘I don’t qualify? I make too much money?’ He said, ‘No, you don’t make enough money.’ ‘That doesn’t even seem – I just don’t understand that,’ I said. I was just like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Anderson also says there are times that she can’t afford her prescriptions and she receives most of her health-related treatment at local emergency rooms.
“I don’t even open (the bills). I know I can’t pay them.”
Felipe Rodriguez of south Wichita doesn’t qualify for any coverage either. He works as a wire installer to support his family of four on a $20,000-a-year wage. Rodriguez’s 48-year-old wife – who had a stroke in April 2013 – needs continued physical therapy. One of his two elementary school-age children is in a wheel chair due to severe arthritis and the other lives with autism. “I felt very sad because I earned very little, even though I’m 60 years-old. I am a U.S. citizen, I have young children that I worry about and I feel very desperate and I’m not sure what to do.”
Last year, Rep. Jim Ward (D) of Wichita introduced a bill which called for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That bill stalled, but Ward is proposing that a weeklong hearing take place, during the 2014 legislative session, during which lawmakers can make arguments for and against the program.
He says that the personal stories of Kansans in the Medicaid gap are the driving force behind his efforts.
“The one that sticks out in my mind was a woman who was about 40 who said, ‘They tell me the only way I can get health care is to quit my job. I like my job … I don’t think I should have to quit my job to get health care,’” Ward relayed.
State Sen. Pres. Susan Wagle (R) says she’s willing to debate Medicaid expansion but, based on the rollout issues with Obamacare, she doubts it would work.
“The whole plan is based on millions of people enrolling in the plan, and if millions of people enroll then there will be plenty of healthy of people who will subsidize the healthcare of those who are costly and have special needs, and so far that hasn’t happened,” Wagle says. “It’s very difficult for us to believe that the plan will survive economically.”
Rep. Jim Howell (R) of Derby agrees with Wagle’s reservations. He says that calculating the exact cost to Kansas is needed before a resolution can be reached.
“I know there are some states that have gone toward Medicaid expansion,” he says. “I think the governor is wise to let the legislature, I guess, vet this basically at a very deep level before we make a decision for Kansas.”
Coverage from our Public Television Partner:
Kansas City Week in Review connects-the-dots on one of the most important issues playing out in both Topeka and Jefferson City as they launch their legislative sessions in 2014: The Medicaid Gap. These are the people too poor to qualify for Medicaid and too poor to be receiving subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. There are 85,000 people in the gap in Kansas, 193,000 in Missouri. KCPT special correspondent Sam Zeff has an in-depth report.