Jeffersontown, KY – Thousands of children could see immediate and long-term health benefits, at a small cost to the state, if Kentucky expands Medicaid to adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line starting in January 2014, according to a new issue brief from Kentucky Youth Advocates. The brief, Medicaid Expansion in Kentucky: Kids Have Much to Gain, examines the 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,” said Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. “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.

“This opportunity is a smart investment for Kentucky. It creates an opportunity to address the health needs of Kentucky citizens without adding too great a burden on the state budget,” said Brooks. “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 healthcare 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. Governor Beshear and our legislature have a record of stepping up for kids’ health such as making the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program more accessible for children. It’s time for them 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,” said Brooks.

The full brief is available here.