Over the next several months, youre going to hear and read a lot about the Kansas City health levy, a community-supported program that provides resources to the citys safety-net health care providers for the patients they serve.
By JOHN W. BLUFORD III
Special to The Star
Thats because about a third of the health levy is set to expire next year, which will basically cripple the ability to provide health care to all Kansas Citians who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.
Ive been a health care executive for the past 40 years, immersed in the business of acute care, public health, long-term care, mental health, primary, specialty, ambulatory care and trauma services.
Today I can honestly say we are entering an era of unprecedented health care challenges.
Since the last health levy vote in 2005, our patient population has gotten sicker and older with fewer available dollars to pay for their care.
In 2005, eligibility changes to our Missouri Medicaid program put tremendous pressure on families and safety net providers to make ends meet.
And, despite the many positive attributes of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare as some call it), the federal government will reduce its support for health care providers across the country, including tens of millions of dollars in cuts to Truman Medical Center.
The loss of one third of the health levy will create an environment where residents who are uninsured or underinsured, who rely on the KC safety net, and who now receive crucial and sometimes lifesaving treatments, will not have access to these services.
That portion of the health levy covered more than 140,000 patient visits last year. Renewing this portion of the health levy will ensure that those patients (neighbors, family, co-workers, friends and students) will continue to get the care they need.
Some suggest that the health levy will no longer be necessary because the Affordable Care Act will provide coverage to all.
Logistically, that cant happen overnight. At best, according to a national hospital association, there still will be 41 million uninsured Americans next year.
The health levy has traditionally allowed us to provide a safety net for many of the approximately 100,000 patients who visit Truman Medical Center annually.
These visits are not merely common colds, typical weekend athletic injuries or even the almost 800 trauma visits we see.
Rather, they represent more than 200,000 mental health visits and more than 250,000 seriously complicated visits for chronic conditions like congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes and asthma, to name a few, all in the last year.
Beyond all the numbers and statistics, I believe the question must be: What kind of community do we want to continue to be? I believe it is a matter of common good for all, affecting the quality of life for all Kansas Citians. All of which has a direct effect on employment, businesses and the local economy.
As a business transaction, the health levy stabilizes a major economic pillar in our community the safety net provider.
The safety net employs more than 8,500 people including providers and support staff. These employers generate earnings tax revenue for the city in excess of $5 million. The safety-net providers also create tens of millions of dollars in capital investment.
I am confident that an appropriate analysis of the health needs of our community coupled with the efficiencies of our safety-net delivery system will show the great return on investment that the health levy represents for the citizens of Kansas City.
John W. Bluford III of Lees Summit is president and CEO of Truman Medical Centers.