TOPEKA — The number of Kansans without health insurance continued to drop in 2016, but the decrease was small compared to states in which Medicaid expansion occurred, a state health expert said.
Robert St. Peter, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Institute, said numbers released early this morning by the U.S. Census Department as part of the American Community Survey showed Kansas has lost ground as compared to other states with regard to the number of people without health insurance.
“For many years, Kansas did better than the rest of the country in terms of insurance coverage,” he said. “All those advantages to various groups of Kansans really have disappeared since 2014 with the insurance expansions of the ACA. The rest of the country has decreased their uninsured rate faster than Kansas, and now Kansas is basically indistinguishable from the rest of the country. In a few cases, we’re actually now doing worse than the country as a whole.
“This is the first time ever that the uninsured rate in Kansas has been statistically the same as the U.S.,” St. Peter added.
Overall, though, more Kansans have health insurance. The 2016 data showed 8.7 percent of Kansans don’t have insurance, down from 12.3 percent in 2013.
St. Peter said KHI staff still is digging through mounds of data released, but the initial foray shows young people in the 19- to 25-year-old range and also Kansans living below poverty are faring worse than the rest of the country.
“For many years, young adults in Kansas were less likely to be uninsured than young adults in other parts of the country,” St. Peter said. “Now that has actually flipped to where young adults — basically 19 to 25 — are actually more likely to be without insurance than others around the country.”
The ACS numbers showed 14.2 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the Sunflower State are uninsured; for the United States as a whole, that percentage is 13.2.
“Kansans that are poor have always been a little less likely to have insurance than poor persons in other parts of the country, but that gap is widening,” St. Peter said. “Now, in fact, poor Kansans are 1/3 more likely to be uninsured than poor persons living in the rest of the country.”
The numbers also showed racial differences among those who have insurance in Kansas and those who don’t.
“Previously white non-Hispanic Kansans were less likely to be uninsured than people in the rest of the country,” St. Peter said. “That is no longer true. In fact, they’re more likely to be uninsured than white non-Hispanics in other parts of the country.”
Nationally, 5.7 percent of white, non-Hispanic people are uninsured; in Kansas, that number is 6.4 percent. Overall, white people are still more likely to be insured in Kansas: 7.7 percent are uninsured, compared to African American, 14.3 percent, American Indian and Alaska Native, 17.7 percent, and Asian, 9.7 percent.
St. Peter said the lack of Medicaid expansion is likely the reason for the state’s failure to decrease its uninsured population as quickly as the U.S.-Kansas uninsured/insured numbers are on par with other states that did not expand Medicaid.
The new data that highlights the fact Kansas now is running neck-and-neck with the rest of the country might impact the thinking of some regarding Medicaid expansion, St. Peter said.
“I think it makes the trade-offs more clear for people,” he said. “There are reasons that people oppose Medicaid expansion. Many of them are ideological and budgetary, and what they think the appropriate role of government is. But when you see that in the context of how many people are insured, and how Kansas is doing relative to other states, I think it does draw the contrast more sharply.”