Local health officials expressed frustration Wednesday evening at state leaders’ refusal to expand KanCare.

They held an open forum at the First Congregational Church in Topeka to explain why additional money is needed to provide health care for those who can’t afford it.

According to the group Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, 150,000 Kansans live without affordable health care, and more than 16,000 of them are in Shawnee Co.

Topeka resident Sonja Willms attended the open forum and said KanCare changed her life.

“I had a double transplant. I received a kidney and a pancreas,” said Willms.

She said the initial costs were out of reach, and was only able to afford the operation thanks to the Kansas Medicaid program.

“I’m a walking example that Medicaid, KanCare, does work,” she said.

It’s a program that many, including David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, believe has been swept under the rug by the Legislature for two years now.

“There’s overwhelming support for expanding KanCare across the state and if the legislators aren’t going to debate it at the Capitol, we need to make sure we’re having community conversations about this,” said Jordan.

The get the discussion rolling, local health officials took to the podium to express their reasons for a KanCare expansion.

St. Francis Health’s President David Setchel said the lack of Medicaid expansion was a factor when they decided to sell.

“It’s not the only reason, but it was a big reason,” said Setchel.

When Dr. Eric Voth with Stormont-Vail Health spoke, he told the story of a former patient who didn’t qualify for KanCare.

“Had he been treated six months earlier, he probably would have been cured. The bacteria had eroded through his aorta valve. They took him to surgery and he died shortly thereafter. That is inexcusable,” said Dr. Voth.

Many of the 150,000 Kansans who don’t qualify are forced to choose between certain life necessities.

“You couldn’t feed your family if you had to pay some of those costs,” said Willms.

In extreme cases, it may even be a life or death decision. Willms said she is thankful KanCare saved hers.

Governor Brownback’s spokesperson Eileen Hawley issued a statement Thursday regarding a Medicaid expansion:

“As the Governor has said before, we will not support an expansion plan that does not have a work requirement, is not sustainable, and which puts the needs of able-bodied adults above the disabled and our most vulnerable citizens. Expansion of Medicaid in other states has proven to be a fiscal disaster. The State would be responsible for all added administrative costs as well as its higher share of coverage for other eligible citizens, outside the expansion group, who enroll. The claim that Medicaid will add thousands of new jobs has been repeatedly disproven.”

“It did. It literally saved my life,” she said.

Read more: http://www.wibw.com/content/news/Local-health-officials-residents-raise-voices-for-KanCare-expansion-384955911.html