South Central Kansas Medical Center has partnered with the Kansas Hospital Association, health care providers and hospitals from across the state to move forward with efforts to expand KanCare, the program through which the State of Kansas administers Medicaid. Legislation to expand KanCare, named “The Bridge to a Healthy Kansas,” has been introduced at the Statehouse level.

Committee chairman Daniel Hawkins and other members of the Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 8 will hear arguments and testimony on how expanding KanCare will benefit the state.

SCKMC Chief Executive Officer Virgil Watson has been asked to participate by providing his own testimony to the committee, explaining how KanCare expansion could benefit the medical center.

“Over 7,000 of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers currently qualify for KanCare or fall within the coverage gap,” Watson said.

“Those caught within the gap earn too much to qualify for KanCare, but too little to be eligible to get financial help to buy private insurance. Without regular care, the uninsured often wait until their health concerns reach the point of needing emergency care, which comes at a higher cost to all of us.”

Statewide, approximately 150,000 Kansans would become eligible for KanCare if the program was expanded, an idea which was supported strongly by a survey conducted last December. Of the 500 registered voters who were surveyed, 82 percent said they favor expansion. This demonstrates a 10-point increase in support for KanCare expansion since a similar poll was conducted in 2013.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which commissioned the survey, issued the following statement: “Kansas has forfeited more than $1.6 billion in federal funds since 2014 — real money that can help people get and stay healthy. The time has come for the Kansas Legislature to expand Medicaid so that our hard-working neighbors can access life-saving care.”

Locally, the reimbursement provided through KanCare would make a significant difference to SCKMC’s bottom line. The facility has faced financial difficulties for several years, with 2010 being the last time the medical center made a profit.

“The Bridge to a Healthy Kansas bill has been estimated to increase our annual reimbursements between $1.7 and $2 million. Keep in mind these dollars would go to compensate our facility for services already being provided to these patients, with a significant portion currently being written off to either charity care or bad debt,” Watson said.

“Our facility is fortunate to have an extremely supportive community which has rallied to our financial need through the approval of a 1-percent sales tax, generating roughly $1.6 million for our facility’s debt service. This tax would most likely not have been needed had KanCare been expanded. However, without expansion, the financial assistance we need — that would have been provided federally — has fallen on the shoulders of our local citizens.”

Cindy Samuelson, vice president for public relations and political fundraising for the Kansas Hospital Association, thinks success in the legislative process will be due largely to the active engagement of KHA members such as SCKMC. However, all Kansans are invited to participate in this process.

“It is greatly important to continue contacting your local legislators and urge them to support a Kansas-based solution on expansion,” Samuelson said.

“To take action, send a letter to your representatives using our online tool at www.KHAGrassroots.org. The more our legislators hear about the importance of KanCare expansion from their constituents, the more open they are to finding a solution.”

This information was provided by South Central Kansas Medical Center Marketing Director Clayton Pappan.