The Wichita Eagle: Kansas hospitals are hurting, at risk

Yesterday Rhonda Holman of the Eagle Editorial Board wrote an excellent opinion piece that shares our concerns with the Governor and Legislature’s failure to act to close the coverage gap.


Those standing firm against expanding Medicaid in Kansas have their reasons, however politically contrived. But, as predicted, their inaction is harming the health care industry, which represents 9 percent of the state’s economy.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s 4 percent cut to Medicaid reimbursement rates as of July 1 only increases the financial stress, by further shorting health care providers already suffering from federal payment reductions. As the cut to mostly urban physicians, dentists, hospitals, nursing homes and others frees up $38 million to help balance the state budget, it fuels worries that providers will accept fewer Medicaid patients and that access to care will be jeopardized for the very poor and those with disabilities.

How many jobs will be trimmed and providers hobbled before the governor and his GOP legislative allies are persuaded that Kansas must join the 32 states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act? Might KanCare, Brownback’s signature 2013 privatization of Medicaid, be stronger if the state’s health care system hadn’t forfeited the $1.2 billion in federal funding since 2014 that would have accompanied Medicaid expansion?

Now, 1 in 3 rural Kansas hospitals is at risk of going the way of Independence’s Mercy Hospital, which closed last fall amid mounting financial losses. Though it’s unclear what would have been the hospital’s salvation, Medicaid expansion would have brought it an additional $1.7 million a year.

Last week Wichita-based Via Christi Health announced it would eliminate 150 positions while adding 80 bedside nursing jobs.

When asked about the effect of Medicaid cuts and lack of expansion, interim CEO Todd Conklin told The Eagle in a statement: “Our state’s decision not to expand KanCare continues to have a significant negative impact on Kansas health systems, especially those that like Via Christi serve this important part of our communities.”

Via Christi estimates the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid is costing it $14 million per year and the state’s Medicaid rate cut will mean a loss of $4.3 million more a year.

So the situation is even worse than the “the worst of both worlds” that Via Christi’s then-CEO Jeff Korsmo predicted three years ago in The Eagle: “providing more uncompensated care for Kansans still not eligible for Medicaid while receiving less money from the federal government to cover these costs.”

State lawmakers have heard all this again and again, including in packed and emotional House hearings last year. The Kansas Hospital Association has proposed an expansion plan it calls “beyond budget neutral,” in that the state’s cost of $57.5 million in 2017 would be offset by additional revenues and savings of about $159.4 million.

If state leaders are uninterested in enabling 150,000 Kansans to become insured because it would mean “expanding Obamacare,” to use the governor’s words from last week, how long can they avert their eyes from the consequences for the health care industry and overall state economy?

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