KanCare Expansion: Why It Matters for Our Health Care System

By Tom Bell

The facts supporting Medicaid expansion in Kansas have been made over and over again. Medicaid expansion improves the health of Kansans, it protects our local communities and hospitals, and it creates jobs and stimulates the economy. While the substantive arguments in favor of expansion are not the focus here, they are nonetheless important. We as supporters must always remember that, as a policy issue, we are supported by the facts as well as an increasing amount of experience.

Medicaid expansion helps hospitals and the communities they serve. Studies show hospitals in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs are six times more likely to close than those in expansion states. Since 2010, five rural hospitals in Kansas have closed. As Kansans, we cannot afford the loss in health care access if more hospitals follow suit. Expansion may not be the entire solution for financial struggling hospitals, but it’s certainly a necessary piece. The data and research couldn’t be clearer.

In addition to being the anchor of health systems, hospitals are among the largest employers in their communities and a key foundation of economic growth and development. Communities without a hospital are at a profound disadvantage in attracting new businesses and new residents. Medicaid expansion is a key factor in creating a positive policy environment for economic growth and opportunity in Kansas.

Today, Kansas finds itself in a unique situation. Colorado expanded Medicaid in 2013 when it first had the opportunity. Two years ago, Nebraska approved a ballot initiative in favor of expansion. Oklahoma approved a similar ballot initiative. And just this month, Missouri has followed suit. That means Kansas, which has been on the verge of expansion several times, will now be the lone non-expansion state inside a virtual corral of states that have decided to take advantage of the expansion opportunities. It means that our state will have a higher rate of uninsured than all our surrounding states. It means that many of those uninsured will struggle to access the health care system, which will in turn affect their health outcomes. It means that Kansas will be less attractive to health care providers who are interested in whether their patients might have insurance. It means that health care providers already in our state will have higher uncompensated care rates than those in neighboring states. It means that we will have to work even harder to become the healthiest state we can be.

We all know that it is well past the time when Kansas should have stepped forward and done what is best for our citizens, health care providers and businesses. It is discouraging that a strange combination of circumstances has prevented our state from doing what it should have long ago. But one thing, perhaps the main thing, I have learned throughout this effort, is that the supporters of expansion are passionate, energetic and committed to the cause. We must exercise that passion, energy and commitment to continue pushing forward.

Tom Bell is executive director of the Kansas Hospital Association