More than 50% of rural hospitals at risk of closing, Kansas governor says there’s simple solution

Hailey Tucker | KWCH

August 4, 2023

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – It’s an issue impacting many towns and cities across the state. FactFinder first reported data showing more than half of Kansas’ rural hospitals are currently at risk of closing.

After FactFinder’s initial story in April, you had questions about solutions to the issue. We took those questions to the highest office in the state to see what can be done to save your town’s hospital.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said the issue is now at a crisis level.

“It’s frightening, that’s a frightening number. Because 50% of those hospitals are providing services, critical services for people within their catchment area. And those are, generally, very rural counties with long distances in between. If that hospital were to close, those folks don’t really have a viable alternative,” said Gov. Kelly.

Of Kansas’ 104 rural hospitals, 60 are at-risk of closing. Twenty-nine of those hospitals are at immediate risk of closing.

So, what’s the answer?

“One of the most immediate things that we could do that would make a very significant difference, would be to go ahead and expand Medicaid. We are now one of only 10 states in the country that has not expanded Medicaid. Every state around us has expanded Medicaid,” said Gov. Kelly.

She said she’s presented a bill to expand Medicaid to state legislators five times before, but it’s failed each time.

But, what is Medicaid and why does the Gov. want to expand it?

Expanding Medicaid would raise the cutoff for income requirements which would allow more people to use it. Gov. Kelly said if it were to expand, about 150,000 more Kansans would be eligible.

The Federal Government would pay 90% of the costs of the program, the state would pay the other 10%.

Right now, only people with a low income and who are children or 65-years or older, have a disability, are pregnant, or are a parent or caretaker qualify for Medicaid. Expanding it would allow all adults with a low income to qualify.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said one person would need to make less than $20,000 a year to qualify. For households with more people, the income requirement goes up.

Expanding Medicaid wouldn’t just help regular people, CEO of William Newton Hospital in Winfield Brian Barta said. Barta said it would also take pressure off hospital systems to come up with costs if a person can’t pay for services and don’t have insurance.

“The cost of us providing care for uninsured and underinsured individuals is about 2 and a half million dollars, and that’s our cost just to break even. So, expanding the coverage to individuals, it’s not going to solve our problems but it’s going to help reduce that burden,” he said.

FactFinder asked the governor what’s holding the state of Kansas from expanding Medicaid?

“Well, that’s a really good question and one I am searching for the answer to,” said Gov. Kelly. “That would provide services for 150,000 more Kansans. It would start bringing back the over 6 billion dollars of Kansas state tax payer dollars that have gone to Washington D.C. and have been distributed to California, to New York, to Illinois for them to take care of their folks, for them to grow their economy. There’s no good reason for us not to have expanded Medicaid.”

Barta said if Kansas legislators don’t do something, you could see your hospital close within a few years.

“On our current trajectory for all of Kansas and rural healthcare is pretty bleak. I mean, we have a lot of facilities that are currently at-risk of closing. We’ve seen a number of them close over the last five, six years. We expect there to be more,” said Barta. “We think that there are plenty of opportunities for us to find solutions to it but what that takes is everyone coming together and coming to a reasonable conclusion to those pending questions.”

Gov. Kelly said she again will present another proposal to legislators that she said will help rural hospitals.

“I’m not going to give up. I will be presenting to the legislature my 6th proposal when they come back in January. I will continue to advocate aggressively for Medicaid expansion. Needs to be done,” said Gov. Kelly.

What do the people of Kansas want? Fort Hays State surveyed more than 500 Kansans in it’s Fall 2022 Kansas Speaks survey. In it, it found nearly 75% of voters said expanding Medicaid would help rural hospitals and about 72% said they support expanding Medicaid.

If you want to see data on how your hospital is doing financially, click here.

Read the full piece from KWCH

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