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Community, Health Leaders Reinforce Support For Medicaid Expansion In Kansas

Nadya Faulx
Tom Bell, president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association, speaks during a press conference Wednesday in support of Medicaid expansion.

A group of community and health leaders held a press conference Wednesday in Wichita to push for lawmakers to expand Kansas’ Medicaid system.

Many of the organizations participating in the meeting, which was hosted by Via Christi Health and held at the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in downtown Wichita, have already come out in support of expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid system. Now, they say they need Kansas lawmakers to put the issue on the agenda for the 2017 legislative session.

"It's long past time for our legislators and our governor to get together and find a way in which to expand KanCare in a very cost effective way," said Dr. Kevin Hoppock, with Via Christi.

"KanCare originally was designed to increase high quality care and increase access to that high quality care without really doing that at the expense of a provider compensation," he said. "And really because of the absence of expansion and because of the recent cuts that have been put into place, really all of those goals are put at some risk. And our patients in our case, and the citizens of Kansans are the ones who primarily suffer because of that."

Representatives from the Kansas Hospital Association, the Sedgwick County Medical Society, GraceMed Clinic in Wichita and the Wichita Metro Chamber outlined how expanding KanCare could benefit jobs and the economy throughout Kansas.

Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Gary Plummer says a recent survey of the chamber's approximately 1800 members showed that close to 70 percent said they support Medicaid expansion.

"A lot of big businesses have health care plans. Small businesses sometimes do and sometimes don't," he said. "So those small businesses who cannot afford to provide health care would benefit by seeing their employees be more stable and more productive by being able to take advantage of this expanded system."

Via Christi President Michael Mullins says expansion would dramatically change how his organization can serve patients. He says Via Christi's mission is to serve the poor, but "there comes a point in time when we need some help."

“We as a community need to rally together to support this initiative [expanding KanCare]," Mullins said. "What we're asking our leadership to do is to have that conversation.”

Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay spoke about the impact expansion could on mental health and substance abuse services, and on community policing. He didn't take a political stance, instead saying he'll "leave the legislative issues to other experts and stakeholders and our elected officials." But he did say the police department has become the "first and last provider of social services in our community, and it's putting a strain on on our staff and our efforts."

"This is something, whether it's administrative issue or a policy issue, it needs to be addressed, because it's putting a substantial burden on our policing efforts and our abilities to provide service to our community and improve things," he said.

Kansas Hospital Association president Tom Bell says the group doesn’t have specific legislation drafted, but he thinks many lawmakers would be interested in supporting expansion during the next session. “We’ve got to get more people in the legislature who see this as an important issue that they are willing to go to the leadership and say we've got to do this," he said.

Bell says the group needs to put legislation in front of Gov. Sam Brownback that fixes KanCare’s problems by means of a budget-neutral solution. Brownback has expressed opposition to expanding KanCare while there are still adults on a waiting list for Medicaid disability services.


Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx.

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Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.