“Lord, hear our prayer, we need health care!”
On the last day of the Kansas Legislature’s 2019 calendar — May 29, or sine die — I stood up with eight other Kansans and interrupted the Senate. I interrupted with prayers and singing, a lamentation for the incomplete work of this body and its refusal to expand Medicaid in Kansas ... again.
All through the legislative season, we had tried to capture the attention and hearts of these legislators; we greeted them as they came in to work at the entrance to the parking garage; we set up meetings with them inside the building; we attended rallies and hearings and wrote letters. We had been doing this for over three years. We know that without expansion people are dying because they aren’t getting to the doctor soon enough and they can’t afford the medications and procedures necessary for their health conditions.
Research has shown that out of the 150,000 or more people who should get Medicaid — and could in most other states — about 627 will die every year. Others are surviving while ignoring preventative health measures (because they don’t have access to health care) or putting off important steps in managing their own health.
This leads to higher costs for all of us because folks use the emergency room for routine health care and end up with more serious conditions that cost more to treat. And, it’s a morally bankrupt system. Health care is a human right.
Out of 50 states, we are one of only 14 that haven’t expanded Medicaid. Why? Because some of our Senate leaders, like Jim Denning, would rather stick to a narrow agenda that serves very few of us than admit we need to expand Medicaid. We have lost access to rural hospitals and billions of dollars for this narrow agenda.
I don’t think that expanding Medicaid will 100% fix health care in Kansas or in the United States. I’m not excited about the way our state has used private contractors to do work best done by the state of Kansas directly. There’s more for us to address if we want to create a healthy, sustainable future for Kansas and Kansans.
Many of us who have insurance still have medical debt we can’t pay and put off care because of high deductibles and hidden costs. We fight with insurance companies over the cost of prescriptions and whether the one our doctor prescribed is covered.
But the first step is expanding Medicaid; it will increase the number of people with insurance and therefore create healthier communities across the state; it will increase revenues and stimulate our economy and it will stop some of the bleeding we are experiencing around healthcare costs.
Denning’s ideas for making people pay premiums or creating other barriers to access stand in the way of what we need — a clean expansion of Medicaid without waivers from the federal government.
The first thing this new state Legislature needs to do is pass a clean bill for Medicaid Expansion and apologize to Kansans for not getting it done sooner. There’s much more work to be done after that and many other pressing issues. The research on this one is clear and complete. The time is now. “Lord, hear our prayer! We need health care.”
The Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Topeka and board chairwoman for Kansas Interfaith Action.