Medicaid Expansion in Kentucky: Kids Have Much to Gain

At Kentucky Youth Advocates, we ask ourselves the same question over and over when we examine issues. It’s a short and simple question: “Is it good for kids?” We strive to be the independent voice for children and that means we want the policies created and implemented by our decision makers to benefit children. Right now, our state leaders have a big decision to make on whether to expand Medicaid to low-income adults and parents to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($31,809 for a family of four). This provision was included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act but was made optional to states by the Supreme Court ruling in June 2012.

So, we took some time and asked ourselves that same old question: “Is Medicaid expansion good for kids?” And after a lot of research, we knew the answer was yes. We found that thousands of children could see immediate and long-term health benefits, if Kentucky expands Medicaid. In our new brief, Medicaid Expansion in Kentucky: Kids Have Much to Gain, we examine these numerous family and child health benefits that result when parents have access to affordable health coverage.

The research is clear. Many uninsured parents delay or forgo care due to cost, causing health conditions to worsen. When parents are covered, they are more likely to take their children to the doctor for well-child exams and are in a better state of health to keep their families financially secure.

Currently, Kentucky only offers Medicaid to working parents with incomes up to 57 percent of the federal poverty level (about $13,100 for a family of four). More than 80 percent of Kentuckians without health insurance live in homes where one or more family members work. Yet, many of these workers earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but have jobs that do not offer insurance or have unaffordable premiums. Estimates suggest that 97,000 out of an estimated 162,000 uninsured parents in Kentucky would be eligible for Medicaid coverage if Kentucky expands.

The expansion will be fully federally funded for the first three years for states that expand in January 2014. Starting in 2017, the state will pay a portion of the expansion cost, which increases each year until Kentucky will pay 10 cents out of every dollar in 2019 and beyond. This cost sharing offers a much better rate for Kentucky than traditional Medicaid, as the state currently pays 30 cents for every dollar spent on Medicaid. With a deal this good, it’s hard to pass up.

Also, as health outcomes improve due to more people being insured and receiving needed health services, health care costs will go down and money will be saved that is currently being spent to pay for health care for the uninsured. It’s a win for kids and a win for the state budget.

A recent poll showed that 63 percent of Kentuckians supported accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. Those in favor included Republicans and Democrats who understand that getting more people insured will ultimately help our state save money. Many states are also recognizing these benefits as red and blue states alike are choosing to expand.

So our answer is yes. This is good for kids. And now we ask Governor Beshear and our legislature, who have a great record of stepping up for kids’ health, to step up again and do the right thing for kids and families in the Commonwealth by expanding Medicaid. Kentucky’s children cannot wait for more opportunities like this to come along to improve the health of our state

The full brief can be viewed here.

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