Compassionate Kansas City voters approved a property tax increase in 2005 to help provide medical care for thousands of indigent people and operate the city’s ambulances.
The need for those crucial health care services still exists. The Star recommends a yes vote on Question 1 on April 2, to renew that property tax through 2023.
The tax of 22 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation raises $15 million a year. It costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $4 a month.
The revenue increase approved eight years ago has been well used by safety net providers led by Truman Medical Center as well as by nonprofit health centers such as Northland Health Care Access, Cabot Westside Health Center and Swope Health Services.
All provide invaluable care to patients with limited options.
Truman and the clinics in recent years have promoted programs that could — in the long term — reduce obesity, smoking and diabetes-related diseases. These moves would improve the health of low-income residents and cut their future health-care expenses.
In addition, the safety net providers keep the uninsured and underserved out of emergency rooms at private and nonprofit hospitals. Those kinds of visits essentially add to the burden of health care expenses paid by private employers and their workers.
The health levy on the April 2 ballot, to be sure, does not finance all of these programs. Truman gets about $10 million a year from that levy, but also receives millions more from the city’s general health levy. That property tax of 50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation has been in place for decades.
Still, the 2005 approval of the extra health levy came at a critical time.
City Council members had slashed general fund support for indigent care and moved those funds elsewhere — including for excessive city employee raises. Those wrong-headed decisions had backed voters into a corner: Did they want to let the council’s dirty work prevail or provide critical health care for the poor?
Fortunately, voters decided to support the valuable work provided by Truman, the health clinics and the city’s ambulances.
Supporters said the new property tax was “temporary” and they hoped to roll out a regionally funded plan. But that idea didn’t pan out, partly because no other local governments stepped forward to complete such a pact. And data show many of those cared for at Truman and the clinics are Kansas City residents.
This time around, we would have preferred a shorter extension of the extra health levy. As the Citizens Commission on Municipal Revenue recommended in 2012, a four-year extension should have been proposed to voters. That would provide a funding stream until the rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act is more certain and Missouri decides how to handle the need for Medicaid expansion.
Truman officials and, ultimately, the City Council disagreed with that approach. They point out that federal payments to hospitals are expected to decrease, with the expectation that states will expand Medicaid eligibility limits.
If Missouri legislators refuse to take hundreds of millions in federal funds for better Medicaid coverage — an unfortunate possibility, given GOP intransigence on the matter — Truman in particular could sustain a severe financial hit.
Keeping the full health levy in place would be a smart move for taxpayers and a crucial investment in better health for the entire community.