(This OpEd was written by Bob Copple, president of Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, and ran in the Nov. 30 issue of the Manhattan Mercury)
The nation’s Open Enrollment period was shortened to just six weeks. This means that Americans have until Dec. 15 to opt in for health insurance. The time to act is now. I encourage those of you who are uninsured to visit HealthCare.gov or another state-run health insurance exchange to ensure that you and your family members have the protection they need.
Earlier this year, the national uninsured rate dropped to 8.8 percent from 9.1 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s our duty to keep those percentages down. Health insurance helps protect you from high costs and the devastating impact of an unexpected illness.
More than 370,000 people signed up for insurance coverage through the federal exchange in the first three days of Open Enrollment, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Of those sign-ups, 75 percent of enrollees purchased coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange last year; one-quarter are new customers.
While Kansas has not yet expanded its “KanCare” Medicaid program, we are hopeful that with our new state leadership this will be a possibility for our state in the near future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 249,000 uninsured Kansans last year. Insurance not only benefits the policy holder, but also the hospitals, clinics and community. Lacking insurance can produce a great financial hardship on people, and when they lack the resources to pay for their care, healthcare facilities can suffer.
Locally, the expansion KanCare of would provide an economic benefit to our area and would insure an additional 4,800 people in Geary, Pottawatomie and Riley counties, according to the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. Additionally, it would result in more than $20.3 million in new annual health care spending in those counties.
Roughly 60 percent of working-age, non-disabled Medicaid enrollees work and nearly eight in 10 Medicaid recipients live in families with at least one worker. Health coverage helps those workers heal and return to the jobs they hold, which allows them to contribute to Medicare, Social Security and our federal and state tax coffers. Expanding coverage makes sense.
In 2019, those without insurance will no longer have to pay a tax penalty due to a tax bill signed into law last year. The lack of a penalty however does not undermine the persuasive rationale for getting covered. In addition, the Administration has allowed cheaper short-term plans with fewer benefits so individuals must exercise even more care as they select their health plans this year.