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Expand Medicaid in Kansas

By Charles Carney

Fred was five years old when he found his mother hung to death by her own hand in Kansas City, KS. Fred’s father, a raging alcoholic, often woke Fred from a sound sleep in an abusive rage. Today, Fred, 54, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He is hyper-vigilant, suffers from severe insomnia, has cortisol spikes, and has had these issues his entire life. As an adult, Fred has struggled with homelessness and substandard employment, yet because Fred is “able-bodied” and doesn’t have an obvious physical disability, he has repeatedly been denied Medicaid coverage in Kansas.

Rebecca is 41, from Overland Park, KS. She was a professional sign-language interpreter, earning around $40,000 each year. She had an unfortunate brain injury that now prevents her from working. She experiences memory loss and loses focus; she can barely complete simple tasks. She lost her Medicaid coverage because she needed assistance to complete a routine review. She was kicked off of Medicaid in Kansas due to a technicality, and now without her medications she is unable to be even moderately productive. She is currently homeless.

Danny is 58 years old in KCKS. In 2018 he earned $6,200. Danny is blind in one eye and suffers from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and memory loss. Yet, because he was working, he earned too much for Medicaid in Kansas, and too little to participate in the Healthcare Exchange, aka Obamacare. Without any affordable health care options for low-wage earners, Danny cannot receive any kind of surgical remedy for his blindness.

Fred, Rebecca, and Danny are three people I have intensively worked with, and who have suffered unjustly because Kansas has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Whether due to lack of income, inability to jump through an infinite amount of bureaucratic hoops, or lack of an obvious disability, there are more than 150,000 people like Fred, Rebecca, and Danny throughout Kansas. They all fall through the cracks, thanks to legislators’ apathy and a misinformed political agenda. 

They were on the forefront of my mind as I travelled with others from the Poor People’s Campaign and PeaceWorks-KC on Jan.14 to advocate expanded Medicaid in Kansas. Melinda Hershberger from The Kansas City Star wrote, “Lack of Medicaid is killing Kansans.” In July, a study of mortality rates in non-expansion states estimated that 288 Kansans have died prematurely every year since 2014 specifically due to our failure to adopt expansion. Totally unacceptable and senseless!

Fred, Rebecca and Danny, as well as the 288 who are dying each year, are not statistics. These are real people suffering real pain and spending nights in real homelessness with real medical and psychiatric needs!

Expanding KanCare will bring hundreds of millions of our tax dollars back to Kansas, create 3,800 jobs, eliminate red tape, protect hospitals, prevent homelessness and … make my job a lot easier! 

According to the original founder of the Poor People’s movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Justice deferred is justice denied.” The time for Expanded KanCare is now! NO Barriers! NO Delays! 

—Charles Carney, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign and PeaceWorks-KC, serves as a homeless-outreach social worker in Kansas City, KS.

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