Hospital association still pushing to expand KanCare

The Kansas Hospital Association hosted its third KanCare forum on Wednesday in hopes of persuading lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

The hospital association, along with other health-related organizations, have tried repeatedly to persuade lawmakers to expand KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, which provides insurance to people with low incomes or disabilities.

Medicaid expansion was included as part of the Affordable Care Act, but a Supreme Court decision later allowed each state to decide whether it wanted to expand.

Gov. Sam Brownback, along with other Kansas Republicans, has listed a set of requirements for any expansion proposal.

The Kansas Hospital Association created an expansion proposal called “The Bridge to a Healthy Kansas” that it says meets those requirements. The association predicts its plan would serve as a moneymaker for Kansas.

Brownback and other legislators have disputed those claims.

Wednesday’s forum in Topeka consisted of a keynote speech by Len Nichols, health policy professor at George Mason University, followed by a panel discussion with rural hospital officials and health care providers and elected officials.

Julie Elder, a physician at GraceMed in Wichita, said the most important benefit to expansion is its ability to reduce mortality rates. GraceMed serves uninsured and underinsured patients.

“It’s amazing to me,” she said.

Terry Deschaine, trustee for Sumner Regional Medical Center in Wellington, said expanding KanCare is a “no brainer” but that political resistance blocks it from gaining traction.

The hospital in Wellington, he said, is one of 31 at risk of closure in Kansas. That’s up from 17 in 2015, according to a report from iVantage Health Analytics, a Maine-based research group.

“It’s really sad,” Deschaine said. “I don’t think the number of hospitals at risk are at risk of closure because of poor management. I think they’re at risk of closure because of not having enough reimbursements.”

He said Sumner Regional Medical Center is not facing closure at the moment. But if the hospital were to close, he said, the consequences would be drastic.

He said the community would lose 130 high-paying medical jobs. Without the hospital, most of those families would leave the community, reducing the number of children in schools.

Large employers, he said, would likely relocate because of increased insurance costs for being in a town without a hospital. Future industry recruitment, he said, would be difficult.

And with the loss of those families, jobs and companies, he said, the rest of the town would suffer economically.

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn