Kansas Won’t Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline to Rural Hospitals and Patients – The Intercept
On a Friday afternoon in late March, some of the most powerful people in Wellington, Kansas, crowded into the office of physician Faustino Naldoza. The civic leaders, were trying to prevail upon state Sen. Larry Alley to side with them in a vote the following week. The state legislature would be deciding on whether to overturn a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback of an expansion of the state health care program called KanCare — otherwise known, unfortunately for its prospects, as Medicaid.
Kansas had long rejected the expansion of Medicaid authorized by the Affordable Care Act until, that is, President Barack Obama left office, and the legislature voted to accept the federal money. The expansion was a lifeline to towns like Wellington. Across Kansas and throughout much of the rural U.S., small hospitals have been closing. In 2017, Wellington’s Sumner Regional Medical Center joined a growing list of more than 600 rural hospitals that, according to 2016 report by health analytics firm iVantage, are at risk of shuttering, potentially leveling blows to local economies and leaving residents without nearby emergency services and accessible routine care.
Expanding Medicaid, according to Sumner Regional officials, would bring in an extra $750,000 a year, enough to keep it afloat. Alley had nonetheless voted against the expansion, but it passed without him. Then Brownback vetoed the bill, and Alley’s vote became necessary to override the veto.
In Naldoza’s office, according to an account in Sumner Newscow, a local news site, and interviews by The Intercept, town leaders brought every argument they had to bear on Alley.
Wellington’s mayor Shelley Hansel recalled an injury to her young son, wondering if he would have even survived if the facility hadn’t been so close by. J.C. Long, president of the town’s Bank of Commerce and a former firebrand Republican lawmaker, told Alley that “good policy should trump good politics.” From his perspective as a banker, a struggling hospital was better than no hospital —and if the hospital closed, the community would suffer through job losses (Sumner employs 130 people, according to Stacy Davis, executive director of economic development for Sumner County).
Earlier in the day, officials from GKN Aerospace Precision Machining, one of the town’s leading employers, explained that their workplace insurance premiums would jump, because insurers don’t look kindly on factories with no emergency room anywhere nearby. What’s more, recruitment is difficult in towns without hospitals, they said, so without a hospital in Wellington, the company would consider moving elsewhere.
That Monday, the House fell three votes short of the number needed to override, so the Senate never even needed to vote.
The looming closure of Sumner Regional Medical Center stands as a potential disaster for many Sumner County residents.
Tagging clothes for her volunteer post at the Presbyterian Church thrift shop on a summer afternoon, Betty Farley expressed her fear that the closure could have a lasting impact on the community. But for the nearby hospital, the mother would not have been able to deal with her daughter’s treatment that has required both emergent and routine care over the last 15 years. The nearest hospital would now be 30 minutes away. For residents caught in a medical emergency, this could mean a costly ride in an ambulance or worse, not receiving that care in time.