Stephanie Barr spoke from the heart about health reform Tuesday as a cancer survivor who was around cigarette smoke in her youth.
Barr was 30 years old and without insurance when her breast cancer was diagnosed, but she qualified for care under a provision of Medicaid applicable to women with breast or cervical cancer. It convinced her to be an advocate for expansion of Medicaid in Kansas, a proposition supported by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network's volunteers fanned out to lobby state legislators at the Capitol.
"I couldn't afford insurance," she said. "If I hadn't had access to Medicaid, I would not be here today."
Under a proposal offered by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, the state would broaden the Medicaid program in Kansas to include 150,000 more people. Members of the House and Senate Republican leadership have expressed skepticism about Kelly's approach. In 2017, the Legislature passed an expansion plan later vetoed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Jordan Feuerborn, governmental affairs director with the ACS's cancer network in Kansas, said about 60 cancer survivors, caregivers and other volunteers visited lawmakers at the Capitol to discuss changes to Medicaid, known as KanCare in Kansas, and to champion a proposal to raise the minimum age of tobacco sales to 21. The legal age for purchase of tobacco products in Kansas is 18.
"There's been a number of local ordinances passed throughout the state to raise it to 21," she said. "We're hoping to build on that work. Nearly 95 percent of people who smoke started before the age of 21."
Feuerborn said the popularity of electronic cigarettes among youth was a concern, because the concentration of nicotine in the devices was harmful to developing brains. Tobacco use accounts for one-third of all cancer deaths, she said.
The nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society estimated 15,300 new cases of cancer would be diagnosed this year in Kansas and more than 5,500 Kansans would die of cancer.