Former Kansas Senate President Dave Kerr complained Thursday about the "false frugality" he sees in opposition to Medicaid expansion.
Kerr, a Republican who served in the Legislature from 1984 to 2004 and later led the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, said he shares concern for the rising federal deficit.
"But it doesn't make any sense for us to be passing up somewhere close to a billion dollars a year in federal funds," Kerr said.
He joined Gov. Laura Kelly and other chamber leaders from across the state in proclaiming the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid health care coverage to an additional 130,000 low-income Kansans and unlocking federal funds that would pay for 90 percent of the costs.
A new study from the Kansas Health Institute says expansion would have a net cost to the state of $47.4 million in 2020. That figure doesn't include an anticipated increase in revenue from sales and income tax collections from the billion-dollar influx of federal cash.
Lawmakers in the House are holding roundtable discussions on the issue, but GOP leadership in both chambers have worked to block Medicaid legislation from being considered.
"We're here in the Statehouse, and you know that anything's possible here," Kelly said. "There are ways, even if we don't get a formal hearing, to get this bill debated on the floor."
Kelly said expansion will help every Kansas community and provide significant financial relief to rural hospitals.
KHI declined to evaluate the economic benefit of Medicaid expansion because it would be difficult to isolate, but the study's author said it was reasonable to expect a positive impact. Whatever the number is, Kerr said, it "surely isn't zero."
"Add that back in, and the cost to the state is modest for an enormous amount of good for people, plus the benefits for our workforce and for the local economies," Kerr said. "That money cycles through several times, helping out our economy all the way through."
In Hutchinson, Kerr said, $6.5 million would go to the bottom line of the hospital. The people who gain care and can return to work would contribute $4.5 million to the local economy, he said.
Jan Peters, CEO of Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, said 915 people would gain health care coverage in Barton County, where the total population is 27,674. To provide that coverage, she said, medical facilities would need to add 25 jobs.
She said expansion would mean a $6 million investment in new health care spending in the community.
"We know that if we can get them covered, they can then take those monies and use them for food and other services, housing and transportation," Peters said. "So this, we feel, would really increase our local income and tax revenues, obviously, as well as the state."
Blake Benson, CEO of Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said he expects expansion to benefit his community with an $11 million impact in health care spending and improved productivity of a healthier workforce.
Carolyn Watley, an executive with the Kansas City chamber, said expansion would add 600 jobs in her region and bring in tax revenue and economic benefits that would total $126 million in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.