28 March 2024 | Health

Kansas Legislature Finally Held Medicaid Expansion Hearings

(Photo: Committee rooms were overflowing with supporters during Medicaid expansion hearings.)

By Heather Braum | March 28, 2024

On March 20, after multi-year delays, the Legislature finally publicly listened to Kansans speak in support of Medicaid expansion. Backing up verbal conferees’ words were more than 400 proponent pieces of written-only testimony who submitted their perspectives to both the House and Senate.  

Unfortunately, the very next day, the House Health Committee failed to pass out the bill containing the Governor’s plan for Medicaid expansion (HB 2556), showing Republicans’ refusal to support even a motion to pass out the bill without a recommendation so it could have a proper debate by the full House of Representatives.

That failure means the Committee ignored the testimony of hundreds of Kansans from all walks of life, ages, circumstance, geography, education, professions, and statuses of health care access.

We will continue to be one of the many Kansas organizations pushing for Medicaid expansion until it finally passes someday. For now, we want to highlight some of the written testimony submitted this year, drawing attention to why expanding Medicaid is so important for the health of kids and families.

Key Links from the Hearings

Selected Comments in Support of Medicaid Expansion

Skimming through the Senate side proponent testimony, testimony came from an array of interests — business leaders, physicians, farmers, parents, students, disability advocates, and many more. Writers focused on the low financial limit for families to currently gain access to Medicaid, and how Medicaid expansion would remove numerous barriers for several populations finally getting access to health insurance.

One theme throughout submitted testimony connected to new KHI research that more than 40 percent of those who would benefit from Medicaid expansion are ages 19-25. Several focused on young adults who had KanCare coverage up until age 18 and then aged out. Because their parents didn’t have private coverage, these young adults couldn’t remain on their parent’s insurance, unlike many of those with private insurance can today until age 26.

Numerous individuals, parents, and medical providers wrote about concerns for young adults handling health care issues during a time when they couldn’t afford health insurance because of low income, part-time jobs, school responsibilities, and other financial burdens.

Written proponents also discussed how expansion could reduce local tax burdens, improve family health, provide for a more positive future for generations, and keep Kansas economies alive across the state.

Here’s a few themes and selected quotes (drawn from only the Senate hearing submissions, as the House testimony was not available when this was first drafted).

Broad Assessment of Expansion Impact

  1. Ed O’Malley of the Kansas Health Foundation reminded that those who don’t have access to affordable health insurance “are our neighbors who wake up every day and do everything within their power to achieve a dignified, fulfilling life. And still, they are unable to afford health care coverage that meets their needs.” (p 121)

  2. Dr. Kenneth K. Goertz of Overland Park lamented kids losing Medicaid coverage after age 18. “Why after making this investment in their health for their first 18 years, does the state suddenly abandon them? It’s long past time for us to truly, and genuinely hope for a healthy future—and not just until they’re old enough to vote.” (p 18)

Benefits to Kids

  1. KAC’s own testimony focused on expansion’s benefit for the vast benefits to children and their health and for keeping kids out of foster care. (p 94)

  2. Dr. Dena Hubbard and Dr. Andrew Donaldson of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics shared that “having healthy parents positively impacts brain structure and function, serving to mitigate the deleterious effects of trauma, poverty, and other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).” (p 106)

  3. Donna Oberstein of Overland Park continued this theme, stating, “Medicaid expansion helps children by boosting families’ financial security and enabling children to get better care from healthier parents.” (p 19)

Improving Women's Health before Pregnancy

  1. Molly Gotobed of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County emphasized, “It is known that mothers with cardiac issues or diabetes are more likely to experience pregnancy losses and/or complications.” She added that “providing Medicaid to women of childbearing age before they become pregnant would save countless lives of babies and reduce chronic medical conditions.” (p 88)

  2. Dr. Valerie French of Wyandotte County described an encounter with a patient needing insulin to manage her diabetes. “It broke my heart to tell her that her best chance of a healthy pregnancy was to take better care of her diabetes, a task that she is not able to do without insurance.” (p 141)

  3. Tracy Russell of Nurture KC advocated for improving maternal and infant health outcomes. “Access to care through Medicaid expansion would knock down one of the barriers to early prenatal care as well as address and manage chronic conditions before conception.” (p 18)

Consequences of Not Expanding Medicaid

  1. Kathy McDonald of Overland Park emphasized how “every child should have no fear when a parent becomes sick, knowing they too can receive the care they need to live long and healthy lives.” (p 202)

  2. Shea Roy quickly focused on what happens because the state hasn’t expanded Medicaid. “People die because they cannot get care. They are trapped in the cycle of poverty because they have common conditions like diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure but can’t afford to see a doctor because they can’t afford health insurance without Medicaid.” (p 71)

  3. Jessica Lehnherr of United Way of Kaw Valley shared that two mothers in their 40s served by her organization’s programs had died, with their “lives cut short by chronic disease. Neither had healthcare coverage. They left behind children and loved ones who relied on them.” (p 35)

Workforce Impact

  1. Mary Ann Harmon of Garden Plain described the lack of a health insurance benefit as hurting those who take low-paying jobs, like in child care. “We see the same problem with childcare workers. Employees can’t take relatively low wage jobs if they don’t have medical insurance. And Kansas families suffer as a result.” (p 37)

  2. Dr. Carrie Wendel-Hummell of the KU Center for Research on Aging and Disability Options shared some of her findings on personal care attendants, including one respondent sharing, “There's a ton of really good workers out there who want to do this kind of work, they have a passion to do this kind of work, but they can't afford to do it and support their family. There's no health insurance. It's not fiscally possible for them to do this.” (p 149)

Kansans Continue to Wait

As we read these pages, we question how lawmakers refused, yet again, to open up health care access to thousands of Kansans, including parents of children. As I personally reflect on sitting in the room for both Medicaid expansion hearings that day, I couldn’t help but recall Dr. Samuel Crumbine’s words that we reference many times in our public health and childhood immunization advocacy. 

“The health of each of us depends on the health of all of us.” 

Kansas lawmakers failed to listen to and act on Dr. Crumbine’s mantra by refusing to move forward on expanding Medicaid this year. Medicaid expansion is an investment in Kansas children and the adults who care for them that will pay off for generations, yet Kansas kids and their families continue to wait.  

What will it take for the Legislature to finally pass Medicaid expansion?  

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