In the coming weeks, Kansas lawmakers will begin a renewed conversation about expanding Medicaid coverage in Kansas.
I have been clear that Medicaid expansion will be my No. 1 priority in 2020. If we take the right approach, expansion will provide access to health care for roughly 150,000 Kansans, strengthen rural hospitals, create thousands of jobs and expand access to affordable prescription drugs and mental-health care for Kansans who desperately need them.
But, in order for Medicaid expansion to fulfill its promise, Kansas must heed the lessons of the 36 other states that have already taken action. Lawmakers must unite around a central goal of creating a simple, effective and sustainable plan for Kansas.
The devil is in the details. Some ideas may sound good on paper but, in practice, only increase bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary government spending. Thankfully, we have years of data from other states to show us what works and what does not.
Simply expanding the Medicaid-eligible population to include adults who make up to $16,753 per year is the best path forward. States that have tried otherwise have repeatedly faced immense administrative, financial and legal headaches.
For example, Utah submitted a complicated plan to partially expand Medicaid. After months of delay, the federal government rejected the proposal and sent legislators back to the drawing board. It wasted both time and money, all while thousands of Utah citizens went without cancer screenings, mental-health care or affordable prescription drugs. Think about the people who could have been helped if politicians had passed a straightforward expansion plan in the first place.
In Arkansas, lawmakers tried to implement work requirements. Not only did it cost $26 million to build the necessary technology infrastructure, it failed to account for the fact that most people were already working. Also, most folks living in deep poverty have severely limited access to the Internet, making it difficult for them to report their employment. As a result, 18,000 eligible people needlessly lost their health care and the state immediately found itself embroiled in costly legal battles that continue to this day.
Besides, we know there’s a more cost-effective, less harmful way to help people get on the path to employment. Low-barrier, voluntary work referral programs like the one the House already passed in last year’s Medicaid expansion bill have been proven in states like Montana to promote work, limit administrative headaches and avoid legal battles.
The data is clear. Medicaid expansion plans that are too big, too expensive and too complex turn what could be historically beneficial policy into an administrative and financial nightmare, doomed to fail. States with the best results and the most financial gain have the simplest plans.
So, as policy proposals begin to surface in the Kansas Statehouse, urge your legislators to consider the following questions: Has this idea worked in other states, or is it destined to be another risky, failed experiment? Does it achieve our shared goal of making Kansas healthier and stronger, or does it cost more while covering fewer people?
I am certain we can find common ground. Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, in Johnson County or Johnson City, we all want the same thing: for our families, friends and neighbors to live healthy and happy lives. Expanding Medicaid will help nearly 150,000 Kansans do just that. Let’s not just get it done, let’s get it done right.
Laura Kelly is the 48th governor of Kansas.