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Jeffrey Korsmo and Hugh C. Tappan: KanCare expansion is a win-win

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at 12 a.m.

As leaders of health care systems with religious roots, we believe that health care is a fundamental human right. Access to the full U.S. system is made possible by having insurance.

While anyone who comes to the hospital emergency room will be assessed and treated, this is not appropriate or effective access. This episodic care costs more, fails to provide preventive and primary care services, and does not manage chronic conditions, which leads to more serious illnesses. Health insurance is essential to establishing a medical home where health is monitored and managed and prevention is emphasized.

The Affordable Care Act envisioned expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor, and the Legislature soon must decide whether to make KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, available to a group of newly eligible individuals.

Right now, KanCare covers primarily pregnant women and children. Failing to expand KanCare would leave a significant number of people – about 169,000 – with no ability to get health insurance coverage and exclude them from access to preventive and primary care services.

Childless and single adults who cannot find living-wage jobs have no access to health insurance unless Kansas expands KanCare. Some 77,920 Kansans living at or below 99 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,375 a year for a single person) do not qualify for subsidies in the health care marketplace. Another 91,080 adults between 100 and 138 percent of poverty who cannot afford to buy health insurance even with a subsidy also would be eligible for KanCare.

Expanding KanCare is important to the health of Kansas hospitals. The federal law assumed that millions of uninsured individuals would obtain coverage through the marketplace and through Medicaid expansion. As a result, reimbursements to hospitals nationwide were cut by $155 billion over 10 years to help pay for coverage expansion. Kansas hospitals planned for the cuts, anticipating a partial offset from an increase in coverage for low-income patients.

Failing to expand coverage for low-income uninsured patients means that Kansas hospitals will absorb the full impact of the reimbursement cuts without the intended benefit of more individuals having insurance and appropriate access to health care.

Our mission to maintain constant readiness for emergencies and disasters, to provide essential services such as neonatal intensive care and behavioral health, to educate our communities and to train the next generation of physicians remains unchanged, but it is difficult to achieve when the cost of care to many disenfranchised citizens in need is not covered. KanCare expansion would cover low-income Kansans and ensure that hospitals receive some payment for care that is now charity. The revenue from KanCare expansion would help hospitals continue to provide important services, such as behavioral health, graduate medical education and neonatal care.

Another reason to expand KanCare is to bring some $800 million in federal dollars back to Kansas. The federal government will fund 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and pay 90 percent after 2016. Our individual federal taxes will not increase or decrease regardless of the state’s decision about Medicaid. But our tax dollars may be used in states that do expand Medicaid, such as Colorado and California.

We believe that expanding KanCare is a smart business decision. By delivering the right care at the right time in the right place, KanCare is projected to save $1 billion in Medicaid costs over five years. If the KanCare model is successful and applied to the expansion of Medicaid, Kansas would have even more savings in the future. Kansas will have a healthier population and, over time, health care costs will decline. That’s a win-win proposition. We urge Kansas lawmakers and leaders to expand KanCare.

Access resources and learn more at www.ExpandKanCare.org. Express your support for expanding KanCare and bringing Kansans’ tax dollars back home to make our state financially stronger and our citizens healthier at www.KHAGrassroots.org.

Jeffrey Korsmo is president and chief executive officer of Via Christi Health. Hugh C. Tappan is president and chief executive officer of Wesley Medical Center.

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