Still hope for Medicaid expansion? – Wichita Eagle

Good for health care advocates for not giving up on Medicaid expansion this legislative session – though it likely is a long shot.

Large bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate approved Medicaid expansion last month. But the House fell three votes short of overriding Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the bill.

That seemed to doom expansion this session. But advocates are still holding out hope, the Kansas News Service reported.

“We see tremendous energy from supporters to find a solution this session,” said David Jordan, director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. “So we’re going to exhaust all options possible to try to find a way to move forward.”

Advocates are staging town-hall meetings in districts of lawmakers thought to be swing votes. They also are considering changes to the bill to address objections raised by Brownback and some lawmakers – such as including a work requirement and adding language to prevent any expansion dollars from going to Planned Parenthood.

However, such changes are unlikely to satisfy Brownback. Based on history, he will come up with a different excuse why more than 150,000 low-income Kansans shouldn’t qualify for Medicaid, which is known as KanCare in Kansas.

In addition to helping families, expansion is critical to Kansas hospitals. Reductions in federal payments to hospitals that serve low-income uninsured patients (in expectation that many of these patients would be joining Medicaid) are squeezing the budgets of hospitals.

Rural hospitals are especially struggling, but so are hospitals in larger communities. The owner of St. Francis Health Center in Topeka decided to sell the 378-bed hospital, in part because of the lack of Medicaid expansion in Kansas. But after 11 months without a buyer, it is now considering closing the hospital, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Mercy Hospital in Independence closed in 2015, also in part because of the lack of Medicaid expansion. Hospitals in Fort Scott and Wellington also are reportedly at risk.

Expansion also could boost the Kansas economy. A 2014 study estimated expansion could increase federal funding by $2.2 billion between 2016 and 2020. Kansas has already missed out on $1.8 billion in federal funding since Jan. 1, 2014.

It’s no wonder Medicaid expansion is supported by hospitals and medical associations, faith-based organizations and chambers of commerce throughout the state, including Wichita.

The public overwhelmingly supports expansion – 82 percent, according to a recent statewide survey.

“The issue of expanding KanCare is too important to Kansans not to make another attempt to address this issue before the session ends,” said Jordan of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas.

He’s right.

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