“If you cut Medicaid, you’re taking insurance away from children, senior citizens and people with disabilities,” Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, a health care educational endeavor, said Monday night.
Weisgrau spoke on expanding Medicaid and repeal of the Affordable Care Act during the Salina League of Women Voters Fall Issues Forum at the Salina Public Library.
“About 70 percent of people on Medicaid in Kansas are children. About 75 percent of the funds go toward people with disabilities and people in nursing homes,” he said.
Weisgrau said he favors expansion of Medicaid, or KanCare, in Kansas, one of 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid.
“The thing is, expanding Medicaid in Kansas would save more money than it would cost,” he said.
Kansas currently covers about 44 percent of the cost of Medicaid.
“If we expanded Medicaid, the federal government would cover 90 percent of the cost and the state of Kansas only 10 percent,” he said. “What we’ve seen in states that have expanded Medicaid is better job growth and better economic growth. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot by not doing this.”
Giving up money
Weisgrau said that since Jan. 1, 2014 — the day Kansas was eligible to expand Medicaid — the state has forfeited roughly $2 billion in federal funds.
“We lose about $1.9 million every day we don’t expand Medicaid,” he said. “… You’re not paying lower federal taxes by Kansas deciding not to enroll. Instead, you’re paying for Medicaid in other states.”
Weisgrau said as long as the ACA is in place “this option will remain.”
ACA doing well
Weisgrau called the Affordable Care Act “largely a success.”
He credited the bill’s three-legged stool — guaranteed issue, individual mandate and tax credits and subsidies — keys to its success.
The guarantee ensures coverage is not denied to people with pre-existing conditions. The individual mandate requires most people to be insured or face a penalty. Tax credits and subsidies make premiums lower for people receiving private insurance.
“The options to repeal the Affordable Care Act aren’t going to work. They want to guarantee everyone insurance but not require them to get insurance or provide tax credits and subsidies,” Weisgrau said. “Today, the percentage of uninsured is the lowest it’s ever been, at around 9 percent. That number goes up significantly without the Affordable Care Act.”
Weisgrau said premiums began to increase in 2015 when Congress began defunding programs designed to protect insurers.
“Premiums were raised by about 20 percent to make up for that. Insurers began facing a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are the latest to offer a repeal to the ACA, Weisgrau said.
Their bill, he said, would “give the state a big check and allow them to do what they want. They could get a check for Medicaid and not even have to pay for Medicaid.”
Soon, Weisgrau said, states could begin to see more budget cuts, waivers, time limits, work requirements and drug testing involved with Medicaid requirements.
“These bills are zombies. They are hard to kill,” he said. “I can guess for the next three years we will be dealing with things like this.”