KC Council committee endorses extension of health care levy

Property taxes are never an easy sell, but a Kansas City Council committee hopes voters will approve a nine-year extension of the city’s indigent health-care levy.

The council’s Finance and Governance Committee supported a measure Wednesday that would put the property tax before voters in April. The full council will vote Jan. 17 on the ballot language.

“The need has never been greater,” Councilman Ed Ford told the committee.

Critics have questioned the rationale of extending the tax another nine years when implementation of Obamacare is so likely to change the dynamics of insuring the poor.

But even if Obamacare is fully implemented in coming years, Kansas City safety net providers said it still won’t cover all health-care costs for the working poor. That’s why they’re seeking another nine-year renewal of a health-care property tax that Kansas City residents first approved in 2005.

The tax is 22 cents per $100 of assessed value, and adds about $43 to the annual tax bill for the owner of a $100,000 home, not counting cars or other personal property. It generates about $15 million per year, with $10 million of that going to Truman Medical Centers. The rest goes to the city’s ambulance service and to five indigent care clinics.

Health Director Rex Archer estimated there are 75,000 uninsured residents in the city, and the indigent health-care providers serve about 45,000 each year. He said that even when the Affordable Care Act is implemented, many people will remain uninsured or underinsured.

Last May, the mayor’s Commission on Municipal Revenue recommended renewing the health-care levy for no more than four years. But Ford and other City Council members said it will take longer than that for Obamacare to be fully implemented. They said that if the need for the local tax lapses in less than nine years, the council could vote to repeal it.