05 January 2024 | Health

Expand KanCare for Healthy Kids and Families: Close the Health Insurance Gap in Kansas

Heather Braum | Updated January 2024

Healthy Kansas kids and families are critical to our state’s future. Their health depends on regular access to quality care, including wellness visits, screenings, immunizations, mental health resources, and dental checkups. A lack of health care, especially in childhood, leads to chronic conditions, shorter life expectancy, increased lifetime medical costs, and sicker families. Insured kids are more likely to enter school ready to learn, graduate, and become healthy, productive adults.

Most low-income Kansas kids are eligible for KanCare’s Medicaid and CHIP programs. However, they may not all be signed up to receive that coverage. Thousands of Kansas kids remain uninsured (an estimated 38,500 in 2022).

Expanding KanCare is critical to reversing this concerning trend. Studies show that when parents sign up for insurance programs, they are more likely to enroll their kids as well. And kids’ health reflects the health and well-being of their parents. When parents are insured, kids are more likely to receive regular checkups and preventive care.

Yet with few exceptions, parents cannot currently qualify for KanCare unless they fall below extremely low income guidelines. Expanding KanCare provides another option for affordable health insurance.

Right now, parents/caregivers of children can qualify for KanCare if their income is below 38% of the federal poverty level (FPL). That amount varies, depending on household size. If a family of three makes more than $787 per month ($9,444/ year), they cannot qualify for KanCare in Kansas. Expanding KanCare offers an insurance solution to these parents.

Many employer-sponsored health insurance plans provide coverage for families. But what about families without employer-sponsored insurance (including small businesses) or those who can’t afford employer-sponsored health insurance? And what happens when these families fall into the coverage gap – making too much to qualify for KanCare (more than $9,444/year, for a family of three), yet not enough to purchase a plan on the federal health insurance marketplace (a family of three must make more than $24,860/year to qualify for subsidies)?  

A baby’s health is also tied to a mom’s health. To reduce maternal and infant mortality, low birth weights, pre-term births, and post-birth complications, and to address stark racial disparities, we must ensure moms-to-be have access to affordable health coverage before, during, and after pregnancy.

Pregnant moms without health insurance (and whose family income is less than 171% FPL – about $42,510/year for a family of three) currently can be covered by KanCare during pregnancy and for 12 months after birth. The 2022 Legislature funded an effort to extend this coverage from 60 days post-birth to 12 months post-birth. In 2021, KanCare covered an estimated 30.3% of pregnancies (10,508).

However, short-term coverage is not enough. Moms must have health insurance to access health care long before their pregnancy begins. Expanding KanCare would improve coverage for most of these women as they create and nurture their families.

The health of moms and babies supports the health of our entire state. A state full of healthy families will ensure communities thrive for years.

Download the brief here. (Previous version here.)