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Push to expand KanCare crucial for rural hospitals

Dec 23, 2019

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Rural health officials are pushing to expand KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to cover nearly 150,000 additional people.

Dennis Franks, Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer, said rural health care in Kansas is facing a crisis, and expanding the program would not only help hospitals but also mental health, substance abuse and other health programs.

Franks, who also is the board chairman of the Kansas Hospital Association, said many hospital CEOs he has talked to have the same ideas.

The District of Columbia and 36 states have expanded their Medicaid programs, according to information from the group Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. It said 85 percent of rural hospitals have a negative operating margin and many rural hospitals receive substantial local tax subsidies to remain open. Still, four rural hospitals have closed in the past three years and 29 are at high risk of closure.

Of the four closures, three were in southeast Kansas: Independence, Oswego and Fort Scott.

“We’re all feeling some stress,” Franks said.

Franks said that by the most recent numbers, Kansas hospitals are losing $118 million a day.

In the last legislative session, KanCare expansion passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. The next legislative session starts in January.

“We haven’t been sitting around,” Franks said. “We are getting ready for that.”

In October, a bipartisan Senate committee will look at what Kansas needs. Later, a second bipartisan House and Senate committee will review the previous committee’s recommendations.

“There’s no reason for these committees not to do what’s right for Kansas,” Franks said.

He said they know they have the backing of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly for expansion.

Articles in the magazine “Health Affairs” say states that expanded Medicaid experienced nearly double the increase in proportion of insured people, and if all states were to expand their programs, hospital uncompensated care costs would decrease by nearly 30 percent.

Oklahoma is also considering Medicaid expansion. Franks said he does not have all the facts, but thinks Oklahoma may put the issue to a vote of the people.

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