Opinion Columns & Blogs

Rep. Dan Hawkins: Plan increases access to health care, reduces cost

Using creativity and problem-solving, the Kansas House recently approved a simple solution for increasing access to care for low-income Kansans and rural communities.

Under House Bill 2615, doctors will be able to earn continuing education credits in exchange for providing charity health care.

The idea came from George Watson, a wonderful physician from Park City who died from cancer nearly two years ago. Over the course of our friendship, I learned a great deal from him about patient care and access to health care. Many of our conversations focused on the best strategies for improving care for those who could not afford it, and expanding the impact of charity care.

Recently, I learned of a program operating in Florida that incorporates many of the ideas that Watson and I discussed. The Florida program, which has been in place since the early 1990s, has dramatically expanded access while keeping costs low. Florida medical professionals volunteering under this program have generated more than $2.8 billion in free care and provided nearly 500,000 free patient visits each year.

HB 2615 is modeled after the Florida system. The plan works by granting limited immunity to medical professionals who volunteer their time to provide free care to qualified low-income patients as well as allowing these medical professionals to earn continuing education credits. It’s a simple two-step solution that could affect the lives of thousands of Kansans.

I’m happy to report that the Kansas Tort Claims Act already provides robust protections for health care providers who render gratuitous services to medically indigent citizens. Under HB 2615, health care providers who choose to volunteer their time and talents caring for qualified patients are eligible to receive one hour of continuing education credit for every two hours of charity care provided, up to a maximum of 20 hours during each reporting period. In addition, the bill was amended during committee to allow dentists to participate and earn one continuing education credit for every two hours of care provided up to a maximum of six hours of credit.

Based on the data we received from Florida and the demographics of Kansas, we believe that this system has the potential of generating more than $18 million in free care for the neediest Kansans. HB 2615 will help improve access and reduce the cost of medical care in Kansas. It’s a win-win.

Dan Hawkins of Wichita is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee.