By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — With President Obama’s Affordable Care Act no longer in doubt, state governments are working furiously to get a handle on what it will mean to expand healthcare to millions of Americans.
In Kansas, the debate has spurred a handful of studies from an array of organizations, each reading the proverbial tea leaves and developing their own conclusion. But with so many experts offering such varied predictions, very little is actually certain.
“What’s going to happen is utter chaos,” said Jagadeesh Gokhale, senior fellow with the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
Speaking before a crowd of legislators, media and policy analysts on Tuesday, Gokhale was joined by Scott Brunner, senior analyst for the Kansas Health Institute, and Kari Bruffett, director of the Division of Public Health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The panel discussed the myriad studies attempting to estimate the potential costs of implementing the ACA, as well as expanding Medicaid, in the Sunflower state.
Studies conducted by KHI, Lewin Group, United Health and others offer differing price projections, primarily because of the many variables that go into calculating who is eligible and who is likely to join the state-sponsored healthcare program.
For Kansas, base changes mandated by the ACA over the next six years could cost anywhere from $170 million to $740 million, while the optional Medicaid expansion could run between $1.9 billion and $5.4 billion, depending on who you ask.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about even how it’s going to be implemented, whether you choose expansion or not,” said Brunner.
“They (the studies) vary quite a bit, depending on the key assumptions that you make,” he added.
While Bruffett agreed that there’s no way to be sure when dealing with so many variables, she said each study, especially KDHE’s, was conducted using the most recent available data; figures weren’t exactly plucked out of thin air, but instead project an educated guess using the best available information.
Gokhale said he expects chaos to erupt from individuals choosing to pay fines rather than sign up for health insurance, and only choosing to do so when a need arises. He offered a final caution on the cost studies: Even the most pessimistic projections assume nothing goes wrong, and that the federal government makes good on its funding promises.
Whether or not that happens is yet to be seen.