Fight to expand Medicaid renewed as Kansas tops $3 billion lost in tax dollars

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Some Kansas lawmakers are renewing the call to expand the state's version of Medicaid, known as KanCare.  When the state failed to do so, Kansas let three billion of your tax dollars go to the federal government and we didn't get any services from it according to the accounting of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

"We've now turned away more than $3 billion in federal matching money that would have gone toward expanding the federal Medicaid program," said Bruce Witt.

Via Christi's chief advocacy officer, Witt has spent much of the last few years fighting to get lawmakers to approve Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, passed, it required states to offer medicaid to more people. In return, the federal government would cover 90% of those Medicaid costs.

Kansas was one of several states that didn't expand coverage leaving an estimated 150,000 Kansans making too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to buy insurance on the ACA healthcare marketplace.

"They are the working poor," said Witt.

But some lawmakers say expanding Medicaid in Kansas would be too expensive.

Kansas' new House Majority Leader Rep. Dan Hawkins told KAKE, "The cost will be more than $30 million (the) first year.  And, if Kansas experienced what other states have experienced, it could be approaching $100 million in (the) first full year."

Witt disagrees.

"We actually believe that there would be a lot of savings in other parts of the state's budget that would offset these costs," Witt explained.

Such as the federal government paying a higher percentage for those already on Medicaid and offering higher rebates on prescriptions, not to mention the expected decrease in emergency room visits due to better preventive care.

"Often, when we see these folks, they're in our emergency room, in a very critical state healthwise," Witt said.  "So we're spending much larger amounts of money to treat those folks."

Kansas Democrats are leading the charge to expand Medicaid.  Leaders tell KAKE News they're sure they have the votes to easily pass it.  That's if they can just get a bill to the floor for debate.  Governor-elect Laura Kelly is a long-time supporter of Medicaid expansion.

"We're definitely more optimistic," Witt said.  But then he cautioned, "It still has to get through the legislative process.  It remains to be seen."