By Amanda Gress
Director of Government Relations
Kansas policymakers’ refusal to revisit deep income tax cuts has once again harmed the health of Kansas children. In May, Governor Brownback announced a 4% reduction in reimbursement rates for KanCare, the state’s managed-care Medicaid program. These choices will ultimately make it more difficult for Kansas children covered by KanCare to go to the doctor and grow up healthy.
One in three Kansas children is covered by KanCare, and weakening the program jeopardizes the well-being of the 230,000 children who depend on it for medical coverage. Further reducing provider reimbursement may dissuade medical providers from serving patients with KanCare insurance. This may make it more difficult or even impossible for children insured by KanCare to find a doctor or a dentist, even as new federal guidelines direct states to ensure adequate provider networks for managed-care Medicaid programs.
These budget cuts could not come at a worse time for young Kansans. For the second year in a row Kansas restricted eligibility for food assistance and cash assistance, essential services that help families afford the basics children need to grow up healthy. Budget pressures have forced schools and local governments to cut back on school nurses and public health services. Administrative problems like glitches in the state’s new automated eligibility system and a backlog of applications plague the state’s KanCare program.
The decision to reduce reimbursement carries significant fiscal consequences. As a result of last month’s cut, Kansas will lose approximately $72 million in federal funds. The administration also cut $378,000 from the state’s safety net clinics, which fill gaps in the KanCare provider network and provide medical care to the uninsured.
Instead of weakening health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kansas children, Kansas policymakers could follow the lead of thirty-one other states and expand Medicaid. KanCare expansion would be a significant step forward in reaching uninsured Kansas children, who are more likely to be insured if their parents are insured. It would also grow businesses, support rural hospitals, and cover 150,000 Kansans who fall into the coverage gap. To date, Kansas’s refusal to consider KanCare expansion has cost the state more than $1.3 billion dollars in federal funds. Additional resources would help address KanCare’s existing challenges while generating revenue and budget savings, as it has in other states.
Kansas cannot continue to sacrifice the health of our children for an unsustainable tax policy. Building a strong health care system is a critical investment in our state’s future. Ensuring our youngest Kansans receive medical care prepares them to excel in school, grow up healthy, and succeed in the workforce. Weakening KanCare is a temporary budget band-aid that harms an entire generation of Kansas children.