More Americans got medical health insurance in the course of the pandemic, but not in Kansas

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WICHITA, Kansas — Federal pandemic programs that buoyed medical health insurance rates nationwide in 2021 didn’t ultimately result in a rise in coverage in Kansas — meaning that, for the primary time in many years, Kansans are significantly less prone to have medical health insurance than the U.S. population as a complete.

As thousands and thousands of Americans lost jobs and with it their employer-based medical health insurance, the federal government enacted broad relief measures to assist people access coverage. Those programs contributed to a marked drop in the speed of uninsured Americans in 2021 to match a previous record low of 8.6%, in response to latest data released this week by the Census Bureau.

However the rate of uninsured Kansans remained regular between 2019 and 2021 at 9.2%. And uninsured rates for people of color in Kansas remain much more elevated: 14.1% of Black Kansans lack medical health insurance in comparison with 9.6% within the U.S. overall. Of the Kansas Hispanic population, 20.3% are uninsured, in comparison with 17.7% within the U.S. overall.

One reason insurance rates are lower in Kansas is the state’s failure to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Inexpensive Care Act. As of 2021, 36 states and the District of Columbia had expanded Medicaid. Gains in insurance coverage were higher on average in those places.

The brand new data suggests that the pandemic programs did help many Kansans obtain or keep medical health insurance coverage, even in the event that they didn’t ultimately cause the general insurance rate to extend. Public medical health insurance coverage within the state swelled 1.5%, at an identical rate to the U.S. as a complete, likely due to a provision that prevented states from kicking most individuals off of Medicaid in the course of the pandemic.

“The Medicaid continuous coverage provision drove increases in Medicaid that very likely prevented a rise within the uninsured rate in Kansas,” said Gideon Lukens, director of research and data evaluation for health policy on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But those gains were offset by a substantial decline in private medical health insurance coverage. Kansas saw a 1.7% drop in private coverage, greater than 4 times the national rate of decline.

That drop might be largely tied to a decline in employment-based health coverage. There was a small, but not statistically significant, increase within the percent of Kansans who purchased medical health insurance directly, including from the state’s health care marketplace. The American Rescue Plan made that insurance cheaper for low- and moderate-income people.

Phillip Steiner, a senior analyst on the Kansas Health Institute, said there are a couple of the reason why people could have lost employment-based coverage.

“It may very well be people changing jobs, or choosing jobs without coverage, or people leaving the labor force,” he said. “Nevertheless it may very well be people also opting out of their employer-sponsored plans that they’ve available to them. We have seen premiums climbing pretty steadily in Kansas.”

The institute receives funding from the Kansas Health Foundation, a funder of the Kansas News Service.

The Census Bureau said a nationwide drop in employment-based medical health insurance partially stems from an increase in people working in jobs which can be less prone to offer medical health insurance, like food service and construction. The Bureau will release state-level data on the problem next month, but an identical story may very well be playing out in Kansas.

Once the federally-declared public health emergency and the Medicaid continuous coverage provision ends — which could occur as soon as October — the federal government estimates 15 million Americans will lose their medical health insurance, including roughly 5 million children.

Some can have access to Marketplace subsidies and other insurance options. But an estimated 383,000 people living in Kansas and the opposite 11 states which have not expanded Medicaid won’t have one other inexpensive option for coverage. That’s because they fall into the coverage gap that exists in nonexpansion states: they make an excessive amount of money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough money to qualify for Marketplace tax credits that might make buying their very own insurance inexpensive.

“ chunk of the number [of Kansans] who’ve remained enrolled will probably fall into that gap,” Steiner said.

Lukens said the technique of ending the COVID-19 coverage provisions, known as the “unwinding,” could leave even fewer Kansans insured than before the pandemic.

“It’s really vital that states take steps now to forestall things like administrative errors from keeping people who find themselves still eligible from being disenrolled, in addition to to assist individuals who lose their Medicaid coverage to transition to other coverage,” he said.

Medicaid expansion has been a contentious issue within the Kansas Statehouse. Democrats support it, however the Republican leaders of each chambers have opposed the concept.

“There’s still the chance for Kansas to expand [Medicaid] to greater than offset any decline in coverage that might occur in the course of the unwinding,” Lukens said.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You may follow her on Twitter at @rosebconlon or email her at conlon@kmuw.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

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