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When the Kansas Legislature comes back to Topeka, they'll undoubtedly take up the topic of aid to citizens impacted by our current circumstances. Expanding Medicaid is a critical need they must address, and every Republican leader who has stood in the way of passing the bill should stand down.
As the numbers of Kansans laid off from their jobs continue to skyrocket, the failure of the Legislature to expand Medicaid presents an even grimmer reality for maintaining a healthy populace.
For years we've advocated for expansion, believing that health care options for food service workers, truck drivers and grocery store clerks are vital to having a healthy workforce and a strong economy.
Among the primary people who would qualify for the insurance are folks working in what we now call essential businesses, but these essential jobs often don't include health insurance. If Republican leadership hadn't stymied expansion efforts for several years, Kansas workers would have health insurance to treat COVID-19 should they contract it while they stock grocery shelves, deliver goods to homes and prepare takeout meals.
What's the cost of not expanding Medicaid in Kansas? The people enabling us to shelter in place safely are doing so without health insurance.
This failure to act will now have even broader consequences as there's another sector of our population without health insurance — the newly unemployed. For the thousands of people laid off in Kansas, they lost not only their income but also their health insurance.
Men and women who routinely used their health insurance to access monthly prescriptions to manage their blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, depression and a host of other medical issues now can't pay for expensive medications.
Because of the economic cratering caused by COVID-19, more Kansans are now facing the dilemma we've heard countless folks testify to the Legislature about — having to ration insulin until they could afford more; choosing between keeping the lights on or buying a life-saving prescription; forgoing doctors’ appointments for lack of ability to pay only to need expensive emergency treatment later because the problem escalated without treatment.
Our hospitals can't withstand a greater number of patients with no ability to pay.
It doesn't have to be this way.
A bipartisan Medicaid expansion bill that has the governor's support and 22 sponsors in the Senate is ready to be passed. The Legislature plans to return April 27 (though this date could be delayed), and expanding Medicaid is the first piece of work they should do.
In the interim, the bright minds who crafted the legislation should confer again to determine how to enact the policy sooner than the Jan. 1, 2021, implementation date. Kansans can't afford to wait any longer for health care access.
We won't rebuild a strong Kansas economy if our people have their health compromised not only by the virus but also the consequences of not being able to get routine medicines and treatments because they were out of work with no health insurance.