Failure to expand Medicaid hurts the bottom line of our Kansas local communities. Push your lawmakers to act.

By Shannon Portillo and Jade Piros de Carvalho
Special to Gannett Kansas
Jade Piros de Carvalho
Shannon Portill

As local governments across Kansas work on their budgets this summer, counties and cities are struggling to keep mill levies stable amid revenue shortfalls and skyrocketing material costs.

Unfortunately, state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid left federal dollars on the table that could have offset local tax burdens. To date, Kansas has forfeited more than $4.9 billion because of the Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Kansas will lose an additional $450 million in American Rescue Plan funding by continuing to not act.

Kansas is one of only 12 states that hasn't expanded Medicaid despite it being a budget positive policy and significant financial incentives through ARPA. Kansans pay the same share of federal taxes as residents in other states, yet they don't enjoy the financial gains and improved community health and safety or economic development that Medicaid-expansion states benefit from.

Instead, they are forced to pay higher local taxes or restrict funding for critical services.

In Douglas County, a recent budget request from the Criminal Justice Services department would expand drug court, which is shown to lower overall criminal justice spending by connecting participants to services and reducing recidivism rates. Medicaid expansion would allow more participants to qualify for services, helping cover the costs of mental health counseling and addiction treatment that the county currently picks up.

In Hutchinson, expansion would ensure more people are able to access substance use services at the recently opened SACK treatment facility.

Without Medicaid expansion, many communities across Kansas are losing out on the benefit of lower crime rates and fuller participation of rehabilitated people in the workforce. Recent research links the expansion of Medicaid to crime rate reductions that offer local cost savings on policing, jail and community corrections (services including diversion and probation).

In addition to lower criminal justice spending, expanding Medicaid will stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs. Research conducted by K-State economist John Leatherman found that expanding KanCare would create more than 13,000 new jobs and estimates that local governments across the state will bring in $27-$34 million in additional revenue in the first full year of expansion.

Expanding Medicaid can also bring people struggling with poor health back into the workforce. As many businesses across our state struggle to find employees, having more individuals in the workforce is a boost for all Kansans and something our business community needs.

Additionally, Medicaid expansion would assist small businesses that cannot afford health insurance premiums with attracting employees. A report this year from the Kansas Health Institute notes private sector employer savings of up to $80.6 million.

Expanding Medicaid would ensure the economic stability of our communities’ health care sectors. In Kansas, 76 rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing — more than any other state in the nation. Hospitals in rural communities in nonexpansion states are six times more likely to close than in states that expanded Medicaid. This not only means the loss of a local health care option but also a lost economic driver, lost jobs, and a lost civic institution.

The closure of hospitals in rural communities has the potential to have profound effects on health as well as a significant economic impact. A K-State economist found that for every dollar of income generated at a hospital, 59 cents is generated for other local businesses. Medicaid expansion does not just provide an opportunity to increase access to health care, it has the potential to help economically distraught communities maintain vital institutions that contribute to local business growth.

As local lawmakers consider community budgets this summer, they are at a severe disadvantage because of our state’s continued refusal to expand Medicaid despite broad public support — meaning we will have to do without the economic infusion, increased safety and long-term health benefits that Medicaid expansion brings to other communities across the country.

Remember this during next year’s legislative session and pressure your state lawmakers to act swiftly to pass this important policy that will benefit your community.