Community forum discusses who could benefit from KanCare expansion

Brenda Brown’s mother was uninsured for about three years, finding herself in the gap of not being old enough to qualify for Medicare and making too much money to receive Medicaid.

She went without receiving a mammogram for that time period until she was old enough to be on Medicare. Doctors recently discovered she has stage four breast cancer, and is now terminal.

Brown said her mother has now moved in with her, and has billed Medicare over $1.5 million for services to help keep her alive.

If KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, were expanded like that of 32 other states, Brown’s mother likely would have been insured and received preventative services.

“We don’t know how long we’ll have her, but that’s the impact that this makes,” Brown said at a community forum on KanCare expansion, sponsored Tuesday evening by Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

Brown, the COO and clinical director of Horizons Mental Health Center, said as a crisis clinician she sees clients at their wits end in the ER, needing behavioral health medication, but she can’t help get it for them overnight because the client doesn’t have insurance.

Sure, they could apply for several programs to receive it, but that takes weeks. These people, she said, have a chemical imbalance in their brain that needs medication – meaning they can’t wait weeks.

More than 150,000 Kansans fall into a health coverage gap, Kim Moore, United Methodist Health Ministry Fund president said. These people could be covered by a plan, which can be Kansas-specific, that would be primarily paid for by the federal government.

The federal government offered to pay 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years. Starting next year, states have to pay 5 percent of total cost, and then that maxes out at 10 percent in 2020, said Sheldon Weisgrau, Health Reform Resource Project director.

We’ve already forfeited 100 percent federal coverage by not expanding, Weisgrau said, and it wouldn’t have cost Kansas a dime.

Since Jan 1, 2014, Kansas has forfeited nearly $1.3 billion from the federal government – money, Weisgrau said everyone already pays in federal tax dollars.

Instead of this money being spent in Kansas, these dollars are being spent in states that have expanded like Colorado and California.

Other states have seen large savings in their state budgets as well, he added, which would undoubtedly help Kansas.

Expansion is estimated to create more than 3,800 Kansas jobs and bring millions of dollars into the economy.

“There’s growing evidence that this non-decision’s not only affecting these low-income Kansans, but also many providers in Kansas, as they have to write off the cost of care for some of these people,” Moore said.

Ken Johnson, CEO of Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System, said he believes that number falls a little short. He believes as many as 5,000 jobs could be created with expansion.

Currently, HRHS is writing off $22 million per year in uncompensated care. That money, he said, is needed for capital expansion, staff recruitment, and the purchase of high-tech equipment to stay alongside medical advances.

Hospitals are at risk. Not expanding could limit access to care in both rural and urban communities.

According to information given at the event, one-third of rural Kansas hospitals are considered financially vulnerable.

Johnson said he’s certainly concerned about rural hospitals they work with.

While the Alliance For A Healthy Kansas event isn’t political, it is advising residents to reach out to candidates for the Kansas Legislature, and legislators, in asking them their stance on expansion before they take to the polls in August.

They were also asking participants to sign a petition and send in personal stories about people who fall in the coverage gap, as personal stories are what can help make a difference in legislator’s decisions.

One of those stories was told at Tuesday’s event.

Reno County Resident Wayne Willard has three children with his wife, along with a step daughter. He made $200 too much to qualify for KanCare.

They chose to drop Blue Cross Blue Shield after paying $600 per month, as it got to be too expensive.

His wife decided to quit her job so their family might be covered.

Willard said that didn’t help because he moved up in hours at work – working 70-hour weeks for a while – and then they both decided to get their education to make for a better life.

It’s difficult, he said, to miss your children’s doctors’ appointments and then, when things get bad, to go in and say they need medical care but you can’t pay for it because you don’t have insurance.

“We plan to get out of poverty,” Willard said, adding that both he and his wife are full-time students. “KanCare (expansion) would be awesome for us.”

Read more: