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Kansas should change course on Medicaid expansion funds

POSTED March 15, 2017 12:06 p.m.

Dear Editor,
On March 20 and 21, the Kansas Senate will hold hearings on House Bill 2044 which, if passed, will bring nearly $1 billion in federal funds into Kansas annually to be used for low income and uninsured Kansans to provide health insurance.
Thirty-one states, large and small, and the District of Columbia have accepted the federal dollars, which were first made available in 2014, and are reaping the health-care benefits coupled with an economic boom. Vice President Mike Pence, while serving as Governor of Indiana, was quick to accept the federal monies which have been used to dramatically improve the health of Hoosier state residents while improving the state’s economy.
To date, Kansas has declined more than $1.7 billion in federal funds.
The decision to decline federal dollars hits home at Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System (HRHS). During the past fiscal year, HRHS provided more than $17 million in uncompensated care for the patients we serve. Then, in 2014, HRHS endured an $8 million cut in Medicare funding, with the expectation that Medicaid expansion would offset, in part, the Medicare cuts, with an infusion of $6 million new dollars each year going forward.
From our perspective, declining federal funds makes little sense to most Kansans as the hardworking residents of our state remit more than $24 billion annually in federal income tax payments. One would think that our state officials would be supportive of seeking the return of as many of those federal dollars as is possible.
HRHS accepts patient referrals from clinics throughout south central and western Kansas for a long list of medical issues including heart, lung and cancer.
In our travels throughout the less populated sections of our service area, our representatives find it refreshing that there is an abundance of clinics and hospitals located within a 30-mile radius of most cities and towns. These health-care facilities are the lifeblood of rural America. In one instance, a town with a population of less than 300 is home to a health-care facility that serves the local citizenry. So, it goes without saying that Medicaid expansion will provide a shot in the arm to the clinics and hospitals throughout rural Kansas and, in some instances, may assure their survival.
Should Kansas change course and accept the Medicaid expansion funds? If we do, the number of uninsured Kansans will decline by 50 percent.
To date, Kansas’ unwillingness to accept these federal funds means that money set aside for Kansas is now in the coffers of one of the other 31 states that have chosen to participate in Medicaid expansion.
If the opportunity presents itself, please let your state senator know how important this issue is to the survival of high quality health care in rural America.
Passage of House Bill 2044 will be a major first step in the right direction to make this possible.

Ken Johnson
President and CEO of Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System

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