Kansas is among 14 states that declined to expand Medicaid — known as KanCare in Kansas — under provisions of the Affordable Care Act and it is time for that to change.

Not that Kansas has been close to making that change before. 

In 2017, the Legislature adopted legislation to extend Medicaid coverage. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback. The Legislature didn't have sufficient votes to override him. Since then, GOP House and Senate leadership have worked to block attempts to pass an expansion bill. Election of Democrat Laura Kelly to the Governor's office in November removed the executive branch obstacle to Medicaid expansion.

It did not take long for Kelly to put forward a recommendation — that came Tuesday. Laura Kelly endorsed a Medicaid expansion bill  targeting services to 150,000 Kansans and based on legislation passed by the House and Senate two years ago.

The Kansas Hospital Association has backed an expansion for medicaid for years, and it is easy to understand why. 

Expanding KanCare makes health care coverage, in theory,  affordable for approximately 150,000 low-income Kansans. The KHA calls it a a critical tool that will help increase access to mental health and substance use disorder services. Data show that states that have expanded Medicaid have increased access to important preventive care and improved chronic disease management.

According to the Kansas State Nurses Association, not-for-profit hospitals continue to suffer financially in Kansas—most notably in rural areas. In fact, one in three rural hospitals in Kansas are at risk of closure, many of which serve populations that are disproportionately poorer, sicker and older—which means these hospitals are caring for folks who likely can’t afford insurance and whose care is expensive (they have chronic disease or if young, suffer injury). By law, hospitals can’t turn anyone away, so this means many rural hospitals are providing care that is not paid for.

According to the KHA, 77 percent of Kansans, in the most recent polling support it.

Republican and Democratic led states across the country have found  Medicaid expansion to benefit residents, communities and their economies. It’s time for Kansas to do the same.

— Kansan Editorial Board