Politics & Government

Inaction on Medicaid expansion bill rankles Kansas health community

Marcillene Dover listens to a forum about Medicaid expansion on Wednesday. Dover is a full-time education major at Wichita State University, has multiple sclerosis and would receive insurance coverage through the expansion. (April 20, 2016)
Marcillene Dover listens to a forum about Medicaid expansion on Wednesday. Dover is a full-time education major at Wichita State University, has multiple sclerosis and would receive insurance coverage through the expansion. (April 20, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Thus far, the push for Medicaid expansion in Kansas has been fruitless.

An expansion bill proposed more than two months ago has not reached the Statehouse floor.

Hospitals and health groups, who have long pushed for expansion, remain frustrated by the lack of progress.

“What we’re most concerned about is the future,” said Bill Voloch, CEO of Wesley Healthcare.

What we’re most concerned about is the future.

Bill Voloch, CEO of Wesley Healthcare

He and Jeff Korsmo, CEO of Via Christi Health, have said their health systems suffered revenue losses because of the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid.

The impact has been worse for the state’s rural hospitals, one in three of which are said to have some risk of closure, according to a national study.

Via Christi Health, Wesley Healthcare and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce held a meeting about Medicaid expansion on Wednesday. It’s part of a new push to garner support on a more grassroots level.

The Kansas Hospital Association, which has led the expansion effort, said at least nine other cities will hold similar meetings through mid-May.

“We don’t have much time before there’s going to be even greater consequences,” Korsmo said, referring to hospitals around the state.

We don’t have much time before there’s going to be even greater consequences.

Jeff Korsmo, CEO of Via Christi Health

Medicaid is a government health care program funded by the state and federal government for people with low incomes or who have disabilities.

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

The Kansas Hospital Association, along with other health-related groups, developed an expansion plan that it says fulfills contingencies set by Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers who oppose expansion.

The Kansas Hospital Association, along with other health-related groups, developed an expansion plan that it says meets contingencies set by Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican lawmakers who oppose expansion.

The health groups also commissioned third-party research for the expansion plan.

Brownback and other lawmakers have disputed the credibility of the research.

Gary Plummer, CEO of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, said a survey of the chamber’s members showed overwhelming support for Medicaid expansion – mostly because of the economic benefits.

The chamber supports expansion if it’s budget neutral for the state general fund.

The Kansas Hospital Association predicts its plan would go beyond budget neutrality and actually serve as a moneymaker for the state.

At Wednesday’s meeting, a physician also talked about the health repercussions from having more uninsured patients.

A Wichita State University student, Marcillene Dover, who has multiple sclerosis, shared Wednesday about how she would benefit from expansion. In addition to her full-time studies at WSU, she said, she works a part-time job and teaches at Wichita-area schools for her education degree.

She talked about the struggles of being uninsured with a chronic disease.

“It’s really terrifying not having insurance,” she said.

“The overwhelming majority of us, like me, work.”

It’s really terrifying not having insurance.

Marcillene Dover, uninsured WSU student with multiple sclerosis

A new group called the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas is focused on creating expansion support among Kansans as a way to influence legislative action.

“We’re going through another session where legislators failed to do their job in bringing tax dollars back to Kansans,” said David Jordan, executive director of the alliance, referring to federal tax dollars that are going to other states that have expanded Medicaid.

The state has forgone $1 billion in federal funds since 2014 because of its decision not to expand, according to the Kansas Hospital Association.

Jordan said he hopes grassroots efforts show why all Kansans should care about expansion. The benefits, he said, are improved health, job creation, state general fund savings and improved economies for hospitals and rural towns.

“It’s too important to Kansas to not actively pursue this,” he said.

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

  Comments