After 21 years as a health care executive in southeast Kansas, I moved back to my hometown of Wellington in 2012. I was appointed to the board of Sumner Regional Medical Center in 2013, and I quickly learned exactly how desperate the hospital’s situation was.
The board seriously considered closing the hospital. With financial support from the city and county, strong medical staff backing, dedicated employees, and amazing patient and community loyalty, we have taken steps to reverse the situation. But the hospital still is struggling with cash flow to maintain operations and pay debts.
As a hospital board member, I implore our state leaders and lawmakers to expand KanCare, the Medicaid program that provides insurance coverage for low-income, working residents. KanCare expansion would make a significant difference to Sumner Regional Medical Center’s financial outlook, providing anywhere from $600,000 to $750,000 per year to pay for the care of currently uninsured Kansans. These low-wage earners and their families now get needed medical services in the emergency room, the most expensive place to deliver care. Having access to preventive and primary care would reduce costs and improve health.
Expanding KanCare makes good economic sense and helps all of us. Kansans pay federal taxes, a portion of which was intended to support Medicaid expansion. Many states have taken advantage of the federal funds, while Kansas has left nearly $1 billion on the table in the past three years. Ongoing federal cuts in Medicare and Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act were intended to be partially offset by Medicaid expansion. Kansas hospitals still are being cut, but there is no offset since the state has refused to expand Medicaid.
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While not a “silver bullet,” expanding KanCare is an important part of preserving access to hospital care across Kansas – and particularly in rural communities like Wellington.
A rural hospital is the lifeblood of its community. Without a hospital, a community usually cannot attract doctors, and an urgent care center can’t replace a full-service hospital. Rural hospitals are usually one of the top employers in a community. Their payroll stimulates economic activity in the community, creating new jobs and generating sales tax revenue.
Sumner Regional is one of a few small, rural hospitals that is not classified as “critical access,” so it does not get 100 percent reimbursement from Medicare. Federal cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, the loss of a surgeon, and subsequent changes in our community’s outpatient physician clinic have had a negative effect on the hospital.
Expanding KanCare would inject much-needed cash into rural hospitals. I choose to live in rural Kansas, and I believe all Kansans – including those in rural areas – should have access to high-quality health care close to home.
Let’s tell our politicians to expand KanCare and to help keep all Kansas hospitals financially stable.
Terry Deschaine is on the board of trustees at Sumner Regional Medical Center.