by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
January 6, 2023
TOPEKA — Lawmakers say it may be time to get on board with trains and other mass transit options as ways of attracting young professionals to the state.
During a Friday legislative budget committee meeting, the last before the start of the legislative session next week, Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, recommended that the Kansas Department of Transportation conduct a study looking into mass transit systems for Johnson and Sedgwick Counties. Waymaster also recommended the department look into potential federal funding.
With more jobs coming into the state through the Panasonic deal, Waymaster said, new forms of mass transit would be a significant draw for young professionals.
“If you look at the demographics and how we’re growing in regards to the city and the states, you’re having the younger generation not really being attached to automobiles as previous generations have been,” Waymaster said. “And actually if they’re looking at moving to a particular metropolitan area, they’re looking for the avenues of mass transit and what the availability is, without the access of having a vehicle at their disposal to get to work at other places.”
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City, supported the idea and asked that Wyandotte County be included in the study, due to the county’s large medical center and proximity to highly populated areas.
During the meeting, lawmakers were also given updates about statewide Medicaid use. Officials reported a significant increase in Kansans enrolled in the program over the past few years.
In February of 2020, 405,716 Kansans were enrolled in medical assistance programs across the state. As of Nov. 1, 2022, 530,482 Kansans were enrolled in medical assistance programs, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Christine Osterlund, deputy director of KDHE Medicaid Operations, said the increase in users during this time period came from pandemic-era federal protections that ensured constant coverage. Current COVID-19 public emergency law stipulates that KanCare can’t end Medicaid eligibility unless the person in question moves away, dies or asks to end coverage.
“It’s common in Medicaid for folks to be on for a period of time, their family circumstances will change, they may fall off, they may come back on, you see that a lot in our family and children’s population,” Osterlund said. “Obviously, our elderly and disabled and long term care, they’re a pretty steady population.”
Osterlund said numbers for Medicaid were likely to decrease after federal protections end. After that, everyone currently covered will undergo a renewal process.
About 150,000 Kansans fall into a health coverage gap, according to an Alliance for a Health Kansas report. Thirty-eight states have implemented Medicaid expansion or passed expansion measures, including Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska.
Fixing the Kansas health care system has been a rallying point for Democrats across the state. Gov. Laura Kelly ran for reelection on a platform of expanding access to KanCare, as Medicaid is known in Kansas, and has said she will introduce a fifth expansion proposal to the Legislature once the session begins.
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