KDHE striving to contact people in jeopardy of losing medical coverage
By TIM CARPENTER
OLATHE — Gov. Laura Kelly and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids said Friday that 120,000 Kansans allowed to remain in Medicaid due to a three-year suspension of eligibility reviews during the pandemic were in jeopardy of automatically losing coverage by not applying for renewal.
The hiatus in annual eligibility assessments adopted during the national public health emergency was lifted in April by the federal government. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has started a 12-month process of determining whether about one-fourth of 530,000 Kansans who were in the program amid COVID-19 still qualified under the law.
KDHE has been challenged to accurately direct renewal notices because contact information for many participants weren’t updated since 2020. KDHE officials extended the application window by 30 days for cases scheduled for examination in April and May, in part, due to delays in delivery of mail by the U.S. Postal Service.
Individuals who failed to meet the deadline for submitting required information to the Medicaid clearinghouse — even if unaware it was requested — would lose coverage.
“Health insurance is foundational to healthy communities, which is why I’m glad to join forces with Representative Davids to make sure qualifying Kansans know what they need to do to keep their coverage,” Kelly said.
Davids said it was essential to make more people aware of alterations to Medicaid, which is known as KanCare in Kansas.
“We’re going to need to be really intentional and focused on getting the word out to make sure that every Kansan that can possibly stay covered actually gets to do that,” she said.
The Democratic governor and congresswoman took the opportunity of a news conference at Health Partnership Clinic, to renew their call for Kansas to follow 40 other states and the District of Columbia that expanded eligibility for Medicaid. The clinic provides health care to children and adults primarily in Johnson, Franklin and Miami counties regardless of clients’ ability to pay.
“While I’m glad we could help ensure qualifying Kansans don’t lose their health care during the KanCare reviewal process, it’s far past time for Kansas to expand Medicaid coverage,” Davids said. “I’ve worked for years to ensure all Kansans can receive the affordable, quality health care they deserve, but certain actors at the state level have forgone already-paid-for federal dollars as part of a political agenda.”
Kelly said complications of the so-called unraveling process to update Medicaid rolls made the need to expand in Kansas that much clearer.
“It will boost our economy, bring hard-earned tax dollars back to our state, and most importantly, save lives,” she said.
States have been allowed to amplify eligibility for Medicaid coverage since 2014. In 2017, Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed an expansion bill passed by the GOP-led House and Senate. He said the cost to the state would be “irresponsible and unsustainable.”
In 2019, the Kansas House passed another Medicaid expansion bill but it wasn’t passed by the Kansas Senate. More recent efforts at the Capitol were derailed despite bipartisan support for action.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, has denounced Medicaid expansion as a “budget busting” bloating of government, while Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, complained it would cater to able-bodied adults while diminishing the state’s opportunity to serve people with disabilities.
It’s about ideology
Kelly, who as governor has proposed five expansion plans to the Legislature, pointed to a poll indicating 80% of Kansans supported expansion. Kansas has forgone more than $6 billion in federal funding by prohibiting Medicaid expansion, and the governor said those resources would have been useful to Kansas hospitals struggling to care for the uninsured.
The governor said her Medicaid expansion recommendations were shaped to deal with objections from Republican legislators, but her ideas didn’t move the needle because GOP lawmakers controlling the debate calendar were ideologically opposed to reform.
During the news conference, Kelly said persistent rejection of health and financial arguments for expansion was “stupid” and “foolish.”
“Every year, I tailor the proposal to address concerns expressed by legislative leadership,” Kelly said. “Every year, they would move the goalposts. As a result, Kansas is now a Medicaid desert.”
She vowed to introduce a new Medicaid expansion proposal in her budget recommendations to the 2024 Legislature. She also urged Kansans to pressure senators and representatives to demand Senate and House GOP leaders allow votes on Medicaid expansion. All states surrounding Kansas have adopted Medicaid expansion.
Amy Falk, chief executive officer of the Health Partnership Clinic in Olathe, said the decision by Missouri voters to expand Medicaid a year ago prompted some Kansans without health insurance to move across the state line.
“Absolutely, all the time,” she said. “Especially where we see patients who have needs beyond walls of the partnership, that have critical illnesses, need surgeries. They bring it up and, yes, that is an issue.”
Davids, who serves the 3rd District covering the Kansas side of metropolitan Kansas City, said Kansas was in a shrinking pool of states unwilling to address health care needs of their residents through Medicaid expansion.
“I’m that much more committed to continuing to push back against any partisan politics or gamesmanship that might stop us from doing what we need to do to save lives,” she said. “Because that’s what we’re talking about, is keeping people healthy and saving lives.”
The congresswoman said she supported alternative federal legislation that would enable individuals to apply for Medicaid directly through the federal government. The measure would offer residents in non-expansion states the chance to take part in a program mirroring Medicaid. Congress would provide additional funding to states to serve that population, Davids said.
“If we continue to see partisan actors at state levels blocking expansion of Medicaid, then I think that federal option is a good direction,” she said.