Where to go in Wichita if you fall in the Medicaid gap

by Sawyer Belair

Kansas remains one of 10 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, leaving 40,000-plus people in the state without government health insurance — or subsidies for private coverage.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly still wants the Legislature to expand that coverage — and so do more than two-thirds of Kansans. But Republican leaders in Topeka appear unlikely to bend.

So where can Wichitans in the Medicaid gap go for medical care without risking their finances? We’ve assembled a guide.

Community health centers

Federally qualified health centers provide care to underserved and uninsured people. They bill on an income-based sliding scale that is generally free for anyone making less than the federal poverty guideline, roughly $30,000 for a family of four. By law, the federally funded clinics must provide all of the following services:

  • Mental health and substance abuse counseling
  • Hospital care
  • Dental care
  • Preventive health care
  • Transportation as needed for adequate patient care
  • Speciality care (in a limited capacity)

The clinics lack some specialty care, said Alice Weingartner, the chief strategy officer for the Community Care Network of Kansas, which provides training and assistance to FQHCs across the state.

She said that centers generally contract with certain specialists, such as retaining a podiatrist and an optometrist for a community with high rates of diabetes. Meanwhile, she said, they offer referrals and reduced costs through contracts with outside specialists arranged in Wichita through a local provider coordination program.

The clinics “are addressing whole-person care, but they also have to collaborate with others outside of the health center setting to get that all-encompassing care,” she said.

There are 18 federal clinics in Wichita and 26 in Sedgwick and neighboring counties. You can find locations, contact information and other details here.

Charity health care programs

Some health care providers offer free or reduced-cost services to uninsured, low-income individuals. They generally are not federally funded, and the cost reductions may apply only to specific forms of care:

  • Ascension Via Christi: Offers assistance to uninsured or underinsured (those with high deductibles or other out-of-pocket expenses) for costs from treatment at its facilities, as well as financial counselors to assist with aid eligibility and arranging bill payments.
  • Wesley HealthcareProvides a 100% charity discount to patients who’ve received nonelective care and have an income below 200% of the federal poverty line, in addition to being ineligible for Medicaid or other government assistance and unable to afford partial or full bill payments.
  • Cairn HealthFocusing on primary care and prevention, this nonprofit offers a number of low-cost and free services to uninsured and underinsured Sedgwick County residents:
    • No-cost vouchers for essential medical prescriptions and supplies
    • Copaying and referral for vision treatment
    • Health-based education on prevention and safety
    • Help in navigating other health resources in the community
  • Kansas Children’s FoundationIntended for sick and injured children, the foundation provides financial assistance for a number of health care services to uninsured or underinsured families, including:
    • Prescription medication
    • Medical supplies (prosthetics, braces, etc.)
    • Nutrient supplements
    • Education materials for patients
    • Reimbursement for travel related to medical care (hotel stays included)

Short-term coverage

Another option for temporary coverage is a short-term health insurance plan. Such coverage is designed to provide gap coverage for individuals in between jobs, and can last anywhere from a few months up to a year. These plans can only be renewed for 36 months.

While such plans generally command a lower monthly premium, they come with a few potential hazards:

  • Usually include higher deductible and other out-of-pocket costs.
  • Applications are generally complicated and involve many invasive questions about applicants’ medical history. 
  • Premiums are high relative to the limited amount of coverage.
  • They aren’t beholden to the standards of the Affordable Care Act, meaning:
    • They aren’t required to cover preexisting conditions or the 10 essential health benefits outlined in the ACA; coverage is generally focused on emergency care.
    • Coverage can be denied or charged at a higher rate due to medical history, age, gender and other factors.
  • Renewal can be denied if you develop any conditions during coverage.

A few providers that offer short-term coverage to Wichitans include:

Free or reduced-cost prescriptions and nonessential care:

Telemedicine services

While not suitable for all circumstances, some providers offer remote visits with professionals at significantly lower costs. Be mindful of significant wait times for scheduling appointments.

There are currently two providers for telehealth care for the uninsured in Wichita:

  • Mayflower Clinic: Offers primary and mental health care for zero cost to anyone under 150% of the federal poverty line who is uninsured or on Medicaid or Medicare. Their lines are open on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for primary care and 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. for mental health care.
  • Medic AllFounded in 2023, this startup connects providers across Wichita to provide zero-cost telemedicine appointments to any Wichitan below 200% of the federal poverty line. Services include primary and mental health care as well as fitness consultations, and appointments range from 15 to 20 minutes with follow-ups every 3 to 6 months.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon