Reports of St Francis closure rekindle Medicaid debate – Topeka Capital Journal

Health care advocates pointed Friday to news of St Francis Health’s dire situation as evidence of harm caused by Kansas’ failure to join 31 other states in expanding access to Medicaid for low-income adults.

At least one hospital board member, however, said more than that would be needed to stop the Topeka hospital’s slide toward closure.

David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said Gov. Sam Brownback “continues to be part of the problem that leads to closures of hospitals like St Francis.”

“The governor has had multiple opportunities to intervene and protect St. Francis and other smaller hospitals,” he said, adding that around 30 hospitals statewide are financially vulnerable. “How many more hospitals have to close before the governor looks at bringing our tax dollars back to Kansas?”

Yet Jim Owen, a physician who sits on the St. Francis board of directors and is director of radiology, said the lack of Medicaid expansion was not the sole cause of the hospital’s situation, even if it would have benefited St. Francis to the tune of $10 million annually.

“The system office has been painting that picture as an excuse to deflect the blame from themselves,” Owen said, referring to the owner, Denver-based SCL Health, “but Medicaid expansion would not have altered this situation.”

He pointed to neighboring Stormont Vail Health.

“There are lots of other hospitals around that have handled the lack of Medicaid expansion very well,” he said. “To me, the Medicaid expansion thing is merely a smoke screen to deflect the blame onto the governor instead of the health system where it belongs.”

Multiple sources with direct knowledge of negotiations over St. Francis’ fate have told the Capital-Journal SCL Health will announce Tuesday it is closing St. Francis.

A years’ long push by health care providers and advocates to expand Medicaid access to upwards of 150,000 more Kansans came closer than ever to its goal this year when the Legislature approved a bill to do so. Advocates were aided by an influx of Democrats and moderate Republicans in last year’s legislative elections.

Brownback vetoed the expansion bill last month and the Kansas House then fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override him.

The governor has said Medicaid expansion would be irresponsible and would prioritize able-bodied people over vulnerable people in greater need.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat with a district bordering the St. Francis property, said broadening enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program — with the federal government paying at least 90 percent of the cost — could have added months or years to St. Francis’ operations. This extra time might have allowed the hospital to adopt a successful business plan, she said.

“I really wish they would have stepped up much earlier, supported Medicaid expansion and did something that might have actually helped,” Kelly said, adding that the lack of Medicaid expansion in Kansas may have deterred potential buyers from interest in St. Francis.

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