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Governor's pen leaves 150,000 Kansans without health insurance

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CAUGHT IN THE HOLE: Working adults in Kansas qualify for help with medical care from KanCare only if they have dependents. Between 150,000 and 180,000 Kansans either have no dependents or make too much money to qualify for KanCare and too little to qualify for a subsidy on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. A working single mother supporting three children must earn less than $768 a month to qualify for KanCare. She would need to make at least $2,025 a month to get subsidized health care coverage on the ACA exchanges.
Legislature acts to expand KanCare; governor's veto means nobody will benefit from its action.

The Kansas Legislature, after years of resistance, got on board with supporting an expansion of the state's privatized Medicaid plan, KanCare. Polls show that 82% of Kansans agree that the expansion is a good idea.

Sam Brownback disagreed with the Legislature and the people of Kansas. He vetoed the legislation that would have created a Bridge to a Healthy Kansas expansion of Medicaid. On March 31, the House postponed an override vote to allow more time for pro-expansion forces to lobby legislators in an attempt to garner enough votes. To view an outline of the plan, visit bit.ly/kansashealthcare.

As this was being written, it appeared that there would not be enough votes in the Kansas Senate to override the governor's veto, and between 150,000 and 180,000 Kansans will still not have access to health insurance.

It is worth a reminder that these people are the most vulnerable of the population. Most of them are workers — they just work jobs that do not pay well and do not offer health insurance. Many of them are "just below" insurance requirement levels of 32 hours a week.

Kansas is among the most draconian of all states when it comes to qualifying for Medicaid assistance. Adults without dependents are not eligible at all unless they are declared legally disabled. Being declared legally disabled means it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a job, especially one that pays a living wage.

A single person has to make less than $373 a month to qualify for KanCare. A family of four has to make less than $768 a month for the parent or parents to qualify for KanCare. That is compared to the federal poverty level of $2,025 a month for a family of four. Poverty level is the income required to purchase insurance on the ACA exchanges. That means any worker supporting a family of four and making more than $768 a month but less than $2,025 is unable to qualify for any help at all with medical expenses.

Children can be covered under a separate program, but the great minds of the Kansas Legislature have collectively determined that children are not adversely affected by having parents who are too sick to work or who are going to work sick. Not to mention parents who are suffering from mental illness and can't afford the medications to keep them stable.

It is difficult to imagine how a family of four survives on such a low income, considering that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Wichita is $733 a month, not counting utilities. If you are poor enough to qualify for KanCare, you would spend all but $35 of your monthly income on rent. Where would the money come from for utilities, groceries, clothing, school fees, transportation or emergencies?

Forget about the entertainment that the Kansas Legislature believes should belong only to deserving people with high incomes. Kansas legislators have even demanded drug testing for assistance beneficiaries to make sure they aren't spending all their excess income on recreational drugs. It is against the law in Kansas for someone on welfare to go on a cruise, and your Social security number is carefully monitored in case you win the lottery.

Kansas has already lost $1.4 billion in taxes that have been collected in Kansas and sent to Washington to pay for Medicaid expansion. The state is losing even more money that would be generated in increased jobs and other benefits that would come from expanding KanCare, according to actuarial accounting from the Kansas Hospital Association. More than 80% of Kansans understand this. Too bad our governor doesn't. And too bad we can’t find two-thirds of those we elected to represent us putting practicality and basic humanity over ideology.

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