Opinion Columns & Blogs

Donna Flemming Ewy: Expanding KanCare for the common good


Catholic social teaching demands that we have “preferential option for the poor,” which means prioritizing the well-being of the poor and powerless within our society. We must pay close attention to human dignity and act for the common good.

Attention to these principles demands that our state find a solution for health care coverage for Kansans who are struggling, particularly those who are in the gap between eligibility for KanCare and the ability to pay for health insurance coverage offered through their employer or purchased through the insurance exchange.

Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP legislative leaders have come up with several arguments against expanding KanCare, ranging from preferring to take care of the disabled before “able-bodied” adults to the state’s inability to afford the cost of expansion.

Regarding “able-bodied adults” and disabled adults, these are really two separate issues with different funding sources. Kansas currently has waiting lists of several thousand disabled people who qualify for KanCare, but who have not received the additional home- and community-based services provided under separate waiver programs.

The governor and Legislature can choose to allocate funding to reduce or eliminate these waiting lists. However, they have made a conscious decision to focus on lowering – and in some cases eliminating – income taxes rather than fund reduction of the waiting lists. Combining these issues serves only a political purpose.

It appears that the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s vision for KanCare was to create a new model for Medicaid that provides “whole-person care” and “preserves and creates a path to independence.” If they believe KanCare is achieving such a vision, they should want to expand this opportunity to additional Kansans who are struggling, even those they view as “able-bodied.”

The governor and a number of lawmakers have expressed concerns that Kansas cannot afford to expand KanCare. This is a legitimate concern. However, those states that have expanded their Medicaid programs have seen reduced spending on the uninsured in other parts of their budgets. A coalition of health care stakeholders, including the Kansas Hospital Association, Via Christi Health and the Kansas Health Foundation, is proposing a conservative, budget-neutral approach to expansion.

It’s for the common good of Kansas that this group of people receives the right care, at the right place, at the right time in order to improve the overall health of our population and reduce the current financial cost of treating this population. It’s also for the common good of Kansas that our rural hospitals remain viable and for more health care jobs to be created.

It’s time to move past political posturing and take care of our brothers and sisters in the health care coverage gap.

Donna Flemming Ewy is a family medicine specialist at Via Christi Clinic.