The idea for the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas emerged out of discussions among five health foundations interested in strategies for closing the health coverage gap that was preventing thousands of Kansans from being able to qualify for Medicaid or other affordable health coverage through the health insurance marketplace. Approximately 150,000 Kansans fell into a coverage gap as Kansas government leaders and lawmakers refused to consider expanding KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to cover residents under 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

In early 2016, the REACH Foundation, along with foundation partners Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Health Foundation, Sunflower Foundation and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund jointly funded the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas to provide information and build grassroots support for expanding KanCare.

The Alliance began building a broad coalition of health care, social service and business community supporters willing to engage their constituencies and legislators on the health and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion. The multi-sector coalition took hold and expanded rapidly, gaining hundreds of supporters across the state. By 2017, the Alliance had built a list of more than 15,000 supporters gathered through targeted outreach, digital marketing and media efforts, and education events and rallies held in large and small communities across the state. Supporters were asked to call and write letters to legislators, provide testimony for hearings, show up at local events and host events in their communities. Polling showed that more than 75 percent of Kansans supported expanding KanCare.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas changed the conversation about health care in Kansas in 2017, spurring thousands to engage directly in education and advocacy efforts on the issue of KanCare expansion and affordable health care.

In 2017, the Alliance and its partners secured enough votes in the Kansas Legislature to gain passage of a bill to expand KanCare. The governor vetoed the bill in March 2017 and the Legislature fell five votes shy of overriding that veto. That near legislative victory captured the attention of national news organizations and advocates in other non-expansion states.

David Jordan, then executive director of the Alliance, said that near success continued to fuel growth of the Alliance in 2017, which counted more than 100 committed organizational members. “That outreach laid the groundwork for a solid advocacy base across Kansas, which proved to be critical in fighting harmful policies proposed in KanCare 2.0 and federal efforts to dismantle the ACA,” Jordan said.

The REACH Foundation awarded a $108,020 grant to support the Alliance’s well-coordinated communications efforts, including email and digital marketing to keep supporters informed and engaged; development of editorial content and materials; media outreach and story placement; and coordination of meetings with legislators and their constituents in their home towns and at the state Capitol.

At the time of the Alliance’s formation, 30 states and the District of Columbia had expanded Medicaid. Although 2017 brought a succession of attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, by the end of the year, 32 states had expanded Medicaid and more states were pursuing the opportunity, including through legislative action, executive order and ballot initiative.