Poll: 72% of Kansans back Medicaid reform stalled by GOP legislators since 2017

October 10, 2022

This article originally ran in Kansas Reflector.

TOPEKA — A majority of Kansans across the political spectrum endorse expansion of eligibility for Medicaid in a statewide survey also indicating nine in 10 registered voters believe a candidate’s position on health care influenced votes at the polls.

Kansas is among a dozen states declining to broaden access among lower-income people to affordable health coverage under Medicaid. Expansion legislation in Kansas was vetoed in 2017 by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-led Senate blocked a vote on a House-passed bill in 2019. Expansion states include Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska.

The issue emerged in the campaign for Kansas governor with Gov. Laura Kelly promising to introduce a fifth Medicaid expansion proposal in January if reelected. Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt spoke in opposition to substantive enhancement of eligibility for Medicaid.

The poll released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, or ACSCAN, of 500 likely Kansas voters showed support to be almost universal among Democrats with backing from majorities of both Republicans and independents.

In the poll, 72% of Kansans favored expanding opportunities for Kansans to participate in KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The political breakdown in terms of those favoring reform: Democrats, 98%; independents, 64%; and Republicans, 56%.

The poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates showed 87% of respondents considered health care a pivotal issue in political elections. The poll for ACSCAN had a 4.3% margin of error.

“Kansans clearly understand the importance of affordable health coverage and want their lawmakers to take action to expand KanCare,” said Megan Word, who works for ACSCAN. “Voters want Kansas to join the 38 other states who have expanded their Medicaid program and they are paying close attention this election season.”

The number of Kansans potentially benefitting from a state law deepening eligibility for the Affordable Care Act has ranged from 120,000 to 150,000. The federal government would be obligated to pay 90% of the increased cost in Kansas.

In the poll, 81% said all Kansans regardless of income, location, race, gender or immigration status ought to have affordable health care.

Kelly, who is seeking a second term in the Nov. 8 election, said during the latest gubernatorial debate in Overland Park that expansion of Medicaid to the underserved would be the most significant health policy change she could champion as governor.

“I have proposed four different expansion approaches,” said Kelly, who claimed Republicans undermined Medicaid bills because the reform was among her top priorities as governor. “I will propose my fifth in January. I think the fact that I never will be on the ballot again can take politics out of it.”

Schmidt said conservative leadership of the House and Senate wouldn’t step aside to allow a Medicaid expansion bill reach Kelly’s desk. He also criticized Kelly for not convincing a GOP majority in the Legislature to approve expansion in her first term.

“It makes a good thing to talk about in the middle of an election,” Schmidt said of Kelly’s advocacy. “At the end of the day, the Kansas Legislature, if anything like its current composition, is not going to go that direction in terms of public policy.”

He said Kansas should focus on retaining the three for-profit insurance companies under contract to operate the privatized KanCare system during a period of inflation in the national economy. He said he would consider modest changes to KanCare such as the 2022 bill signed by Kelly extending Medicaid coverage to new mothers.