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Sebelius Pushes Health Exchanges, Medicaid Expansion In Kansas City

Alex Smith

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged the uninsured to enroll on the federal health exchange at a press conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday.

At the Full Employment Council near 18th and Vine streets, Sebelius touted the benefits of the health exchange for both the uninsured and for the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Sebelius said that roughly 250,000 people in the Kansas City area are uninsured and eligible to enroll for health insurance on the federal health exchange. Roughly 80 percent of those eligible uninsured would qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance.

Sebelius acknowledged the troubled start of the federal health exchange website, healthcare.gov, but said significant improvements had been made. She described a “surge” of enrollment since the end of November, after the website was fixed.

“People, if they had an early experience, should come back to the site because we’re enrolling thousands of people every day,” Sebelius said.

She also advised that the uninsured could enroll on a 24/7 phone hotline; by mail; or in-person with a local navigator, certified application counselor, agent or broker.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid released Jan. 13, show that 14,242 people in Kansas and 33,138 people in Missouri had enrolled in insurance plans on the exchange as of Dec. 28.

Sebelius introduced the crowd to local business owner Lynn Gardner Hinkle, who had recently enrolled for insurance.

Hinkle, CEO of ASTRA Enterprises Inc. in Kansas City, said she had twice undergone surgery to treat melanoma and had been ineligible for private insurance before the Affordable Care Act’s ban on barring those with pre-existing conditions.

“I am basically so happy to shout from the rooftops, ‘If you are not insured, get on the website,'” Hinkle said.

Sebelius was introduced by Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Mo., who voiced his support for the Affordable Care Act. He described the law as “not perfect,” but brushed aside problems with the website.

“If salvation arrives in a broken-down jalopy, it’s still salvation,” James said.

Also at the event, Healthcare Foundation of Greater Kansas City President and CEO Bridget McCandless officially announced Cover KC, a new city-wide program to help the uninsured enroll.

Cover KC will include door-to-door canvassing, a website, phone hotline, as well as mail and social media components. McCandless said Cover KC aimed to reach every household with an uninsured person. She anticipated the effort would involve 200,000 mailings, 70,000 home visits, and 270,000 phone calls.

Cover KC is a collaboration of public and private groups as well as the offices of Mayor James and Mark Holland, mayor of Kansas City, Kan.

“This is about changing the conversation for people to really examine what their personal health responsibilities and opportunities are,” said McCandless.

Secretary Sebelius encouraged both Kansas and Missouri to expand the Medicaid programs, as prescribed by the Affordable Care Act. She emphasized the federal funding that is being offered to states.

“Five million dollars in federal assistance is lost every single day – that started January 1 – every single day Missouri is losing $5 million which could pay 100 percent of the cost of those who are uninsured and eligible for Medicaid expansion,” Sebelius said.

The former Kansas governor said that Kansas was missing out on one and a half million dollars a day.

The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion for states until 2017. Federal funding would then taper down gradually after that but never less than ninety percent of expansion costs. 

Open enrollment on the federal health exchange continues until March 31.

A previous version of this story had incorrectly reported that 7,475 Kansans had enrolled for insurance on the federal health exchange. The correct number of Kansas enrollees is 14,242.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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