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February 15, 2017

After I made my decision to retire from the legislature I got involved in the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas which is a broad based statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that have come together to improve the health of  Kansans.

The first policy goal of the Alliance is to improve access to care by expanding KanCare, the Kansas Medicaid program. Alliance members include business leaders, doctors and hospitals, social service and safety net organizations, faith communities, chambers of commerce, advocates for health care consumers, and others.

Over the last eight months the Alliance has held 36 community meetings across Kansas, including one in Emporia last September that directly engaged thousands of Kansans. The work of the Alliance has confirmed that expanding KanCare impacts and will benefit all Kansans. 

Last week the House Health Committee held hearings on expanding KanCare. Doctors and leaders of community health centers and mental health centers testified that expanding KanCare will make Kansans healthier.  In addition to improved health and lower death rates, Kansans who are eligible for coverage under expansion will see reduced medical debt, better credit scores, and an improved chance of finding and keeping employment.   While there is a lot of talk about expanding KanCare providing a disincentive to work, the opposite is true.  A study of Ohio’s Medicaid expansion population found that the policy improved the expansion population’s employment status and prospects.  Area patients of Flint Hills Community Health Center and Crosswinds will benefit significantly from the expansion of KanCare.

Newman Hospital is enjoying improving stability after being designated as a critical access hospital.  Unfortunately thirty-one Kansas hospitals are considered financially vulnerable, in part because they provide millions of dollars’ of uncompensated care.

Larger hospitals in Kansas including Via Christi in Wichita and others have been forced to lay off hundreds of employees because of the failure to expand KanCare.  The League of Municipalities, has described how dozens of communities and their taxpayers must pay higher local taxes to support their hospitals because the state has not expanded KanCare.  

Expanding KanCare will provide resources to hospitals and reduce uncompensated care costs.  In turn, this will lessen the need for local taxpayers to pay higher sales, property, and district taxes to support their hospitals.  Research has shown that expansion often times means the difference between profit or loss for rural hospitals.  We cannot allow another closure like that experienced by Mercy Hospital in Independence – especially when there is a solution.

The closure  Independence hospital caused the loss of more than 190 good paying jobs.  Kansas lost 9,400 private sector jobs last year.  We cannot afford to lose any more.  Leaders of dozens of Chambers of Commerce including Emporia’s have described how expanding KanCare creates jobs, stimulates the economy, and helps businesses.   

The issue of whether or not to expand KanCare impacts every Kansas taxpayer.  To date, the state has forfeited over $1.6 billion of Kansas taxpayers’ money because we have chosen not to expand KanCare. That money could have been brought back to Kansas to create jobs, protect hospitals and local taxpayers, and most importantly to improve the health of Kansans.  Instead our tax dollars have gone to other states that have expanded.  Expanding Medicaid does not contribute to the deficit or debt because it is part of a budget neutral bill at the federal level.  At the state level, expanding KanCare would help the Legislature address our budget problems.  Other states have experienced positive budget impacts as a result of expansion.  It is projected that expanding KanCare would result in a $69.2 million net gain to the state budget in 2017.  

It is past time the Kansas Legislature votes to expand Medicaid.  I trust that will happen.  A recent American Cancer Society poll found that 82% of Kansas voters support expansion. When the legislature passes expansion What will Governor Brownback do. Well that is the subject for another day.

That is something to think about.  I am Don Hill