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Eagle editorial: Hope for Medicaid expansion?

  • Published Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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One of the biggest policy failures of the past year was that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature refused to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid in Kansas. As a result, more than 150,000 needy Kansans don’t have health insurance, and hospitals and the Kansas economy are losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds.

But the Kansas Hospital Association, Wichita hospital leaders and concerned Kansans aren’t giving up hope. They are redoubling their efforts this year to convince Brownback and the Legislature to rise above partisan politics and rigid ideologies and allow the expansion.

The KHA recently hired Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bush and former Republican governor of Utah, to help develop a Medicaid expansion plan for Kansas. The association is interested in a plan similar to those approved for Arkansas and Iowa that use federal funds to finance the purchase of private insurance.

It seems odd to create a separate model for the expansion when Kansas’ Medicaid program is already privatized. Why not just expand KanCare? But if an Iowa or Arkansas model is what it takes for some lawmakers to get over their ideological hang-ups, so be it.

Jeffrey Korsmo, president and chief executive officer of Via Christi Health, and Hugh Tappan, president and CEO of Wesley Medical Center, are also advocating for expansion. In a recent commentary on the Opinion pages, they wrote about how health care is a fundamental human right and that failing to expand KanCare leaves thousands of people with no ability to get health insurance coverage.

Failing to expand also hurts the Kansas economy. A study commissioned by the KHA estimated that expansion would inject more than $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years.

And as Korsmo and Tappan noted: “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.”

Not expanding also costs hospitals and the economy. That’s because the Affordable Care Act reduces payments to help hospitals that serve low-income uninsured patients (in expectation that many of those patients would be joining Medicaid).

Some advocacy groups and individual citizens are also working for expansion. The Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition argues that expansion would strengthen the health and financial stability of Kansans and develop a healthier, more productive workforce. Wichitan Lori Lawrence was prompted by the medical and financial struggles of her neighbors to start an online petition in support of expansion. She already has more than 3,000 backers.

Brownback and the Legislature ignored these voices last year, and the state’s economy, its hospitals and its neediest citizens are paying the price. This year, they must fix that mistake.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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