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New Poll Shows Medicaid Expansion Could Be Factor In Kansas Gov's Race

Poll results released Tuesday indicate that the Medicaid expansion issue could be a factor in the Kansas governor’s race.

The poll, conducted last week for MoveOn.org Political Action, a left-leaning group dedicated to “progressive change,” showed that 52 percent of Kansans favored expanding the health care program to more low-income adults.

Approximately a third – 35 percent – said they were opposed to Medicaid expansion and 13 percent said they weren’t sure. In addition, 41 percent of voters said Brownback’s failure to expand Medicaid would make them less likely to vote for him.

Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., conducted the survey, which also showed Democrat Paul Davis leading Republican incumbent Sam Brownback 45 percent to 41 percent with 14 percent undecided.

The results from other states showed other GOP incumbents trailing Democratic challengers in part due to their opposition to expansion.

Davis, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Kansas House, was a vocal supporter of expansion during the 2013 legislative session but has been less eager to discuss the issue since declaring his candidacy for governor, presumably due to its association with the Affordable Care Act, which remains unpopular with the public according to tracking polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation.Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist who briefly served on the staff of former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said that Brownback and Republican legislative leaders opposed to the Affordable Care Act have so far been able to “shut off any consideration of Medicaid expansion.”

'Better discussion'

The poll results, Loomis said, suggest that voters want to see both candidates address the issue more forthrightly during the campaign.

“We might be able to have a better discussion in the campaign about health care, not just Obamacare but Medicaid expansion,” Loomis said. “I think that discussion, which we should embrace in Kansas, has been long in coming.”

Mark Dugan, manager of Brownback’s re-election campaign, said the source of the survey made the results suspect.

“MoveOn.org is a liberal organization that paid for a poll by a liberal polling organization to promote the liberal candidate Paul Davis,” Dugan said. “Kansans don’t want to expand Obamacare.”

But support for expansion in the MoveOn.org poll was significantly weaker than that shown in two previous surveys.

Of the nearly 900 respondents in the MoveOn.org poll, 52 percent were Republicans, 30 percent Democrats and 18 percent independents. Most were between the ages of 46 and 65. Results of a poll done for the Kansas Hospital Association in February 2013 showed 60 percent support for expansion and a poll released in February of this year by the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society put it at 72 percent.

A review of polls conducted in the final weeks of the 2012 presidential race found those done by PPP to be the most accurate, though the firm was criticized in 2013 for withholding results in a Colorado recall election.

'Manipulated data'

Noting the Colorado controversy, Dugan said PPP has “manipulated data in order to make their candidates or their liberal causes of the day seem better.”

The expansion authorized by the Affordable Care Act is designed mainly to cover low-income adults who earn too little to qualify for federal subsidies to help them purchase private coverage on the Obamacare exchange. In Kansas, able-bodied adults aren’t eligible for Medicaid regardless of how little they earn. Adults with children are eligible but only if they earn less than 32 percent of poverty, about $630 a month for a three-person household.More than 415,000 Kansans are now enrolled in Medicaid, which was renamed KanCare in 2013 when responsibility for managing the program was turned over to three for-profit companies. Most of the enrollees are children, pregnant women and Kansans with physical and developmental disabilities. A substantial number of seniors who have spent down their resources also rely on the program to cover their nursing home costs.

Without expansion, an estimated 80,000 uninsured Kansans are expected to fall into what is being called the Medicaid gap, meaning they will remain ineligible for Medicaid and unable to afford private coverage.

Jim McLean is a reporter with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.

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