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Medicaid Expansion Supporters Tout New Poll Ahead Of Hearings

Kansas News Service/File photo

Advocates of expanding Medicaid in Kansas are trumpeting new poll numbers that show them gaining ground despite what appear to be long odds of success.

The poll, conducted in December just before the start of the 2017 legislative session, indicated that 82 percent of Kansas voters supported expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which commissioned the survey.

That marks an increase from the 62 percent of voters who said they favored expansion in a poll done last spring for the Kansas Hospital Association.

The timing of the latest poll release wasn’t an accident. The House Health and Human Services Committee has scheduled three days of hearings on an expansion bill next week, starting Monday.

“This information can help shape the discussion in the coming hearings,” said Hilary Gee, Kansas government relations director for ACS CAN.

Expansion opponents say it’s too late for that discussion. With President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans poised to dismantle Obamacare, they say it would be foolish to press ahead.

“I don’t want to poison the well by saying that, but I think that it is,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the health committee. “Even if it passes, which I think it might, it can’t go anywhere.”

But after three years of battling just to get a vote on expansion, supporters aren’t about to give up now that changes in the makeup of the Legislature have strengthened their hand.

“Even with the uncertainty in D.C., it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of Kansans support expanding KanCare,” said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, noting that Republicans in Congress remain divided on how quickly to repeal Obamacare and what to put in its place.

The alliance is a coalition of advocacy and provider groups funded by several health foundations, some of which also provide funding to the Kansas News Service.

The expansion bill would extend KanCare coverage to between 100,000 and 150,000 low-income Kansans — mostly low-income adults — earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s a little more than $16,000 a year for an individual and $33,400 for a family of four.

Gee said that in addition to providing basic health care to more Kansans, expanding KanCare would be an important step in the battle against the leading cause of death in Kansas: cancer.

“Access to quality health care directly affects people’s ability to prevent, detect and survive cancer,” she said. “Too many cancer deaths are attributable to gaps in our system.”

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.