More than 150 community leaders from across Kansas came together at the Statehouse on May 9th to launch a campaign to urge Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators to expand KanCare, the state’s health coverage program for vulnerable Kansans.

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Among them were dozens of Kansas leaders representing businesses, rural hospitals, safety net health care providers, and faith communities. Father Robert Schremmer, a Catholic priest and the Vicar General of the Dodge City Diocese, was one of six people who spoke at the rally.

“People of faith are called to prayer for, healing of, and to do justice with persons who carry the burden of being uninsured and are trapped in a cycle of fear, economic hardship and delayed care. Expanding KanCare would show compassion to such vulnerable Kansans,” said Father Schremmer. “We pray and we ask that our Governor and State Legislators would allow the compassion they feel and the mercy they show as people of faith to impel them to act in justice for the working poor in need of health insurance.”

David Toland, executive director of Thrive Allen County, said KanCare expansion would also be a lifeline to struggling communities around the state.

“Along with schools, hospitals are one of the primary economic anchors for rural communities around the state,” Toland said.  “When a rural community loses a hospital, it loses one of its main employers, it loses high-paying jobs, it loses one its main sources of tax revenue, and it loses the access to care and the peace of mind that a nearby emergency room offers.  But the larger issue is that losing basic healthcare services can fatally damage a community’s ability to attract and retain businesses and families.  Just ask Independence about the damage done there in less than one year of losing its hospital. Kansas elected officials should not wait for more hospitals to close before acting to expand KanCare.”

“The campaign will focus on organizing community members and leaders across the state to spur action by elected officials.”, said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, which is spearheading the campaign.

“Yet another year has gone by without expanding KanCare—our state cannot afford to delay action any longer,” said Jordan. Polls show that 76 percent of Kansans support a budget-neutral KanCare expansion plan.  Our campaign will engage, organize and mobilize Kansans to educate policymakers about how KanCare expansion will benefit our communities, our hospitals, and our health.”

Since the landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2012, states have had the option of expanding their federally funded Medicaid programs (which in Kansas is called KanCare), with the federal government paying no less than 90 percent of the cost of expansion. So far, 31 states have done so, including many with conservative governors and conservative-led legislatures.

States are given broad flexibility to customize their own Medicaid programs in order to receive federal funding. Bills proposing a customized expansion program for Kansas have been introduced in the Kansas legislature, but have never received serious consideration or open debate. Republican legislators who have expressed willingness to consider KanCare expansion have been removed from committees and marginalized by leadership. Many who follow the legislature closely say this likely means that a majority of legislators already support KanCare expansion, and would vote in support of such a bill if given the opportunity to do so.

Expanding KanCare would extend health coverage to 150,000 low-income citizens, help struggling rural hospitals, create thousands of jobs, and return hundreds of millions of tax dollars to our state every year. So far Kansas has given up $1.1 billion in federal funds—and counting—when our state economy needs it more than ever.

 

You can view more coverage from the event: