Rural Kansas hospitals plead for Medicaid expansion

Kansas hospital officials are pleading for the state to expand the Medicaid program for low-income people as allowed under the new federal health care law.

Without a change, the hospital officials told a legislative committee during the first week of the session that they face tremendous economic challenges, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

“We’re in the roughest time we’ve ever been in,” said Dennis Franks, CEO of Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute, who was among several people who testified Wednesday before the House Vision 2020 Committee.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who is the chairman of the committee, said he hopes to develop a “Kansas solution” for expanding Medicaid that will pass the conservative Legislature.

Franks said his hospital serves about 42,000 people in a four-county area in southeast Kansas where 12.5 percent of the population is uninsured and 32 percent of all children live in poverty. He said the cost of providing charity and uncompensated care at Neosho runs about $1.4 million a year.

“It is a battle out there,” Franks said. “We are under siege from the federal government, and from state government.”

The problem for Neosho hospital, and for many rural hospitals, officials said, is that the federal health care law is financed in part with a reduction in hospital payments from Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.

That was supposed to be offset by increasing the number of people with insurance, through expanded Medicaid and subsidized private insurance sold through exchange markets, thus lowering the amount of money hospitals lose through uncompensated or charity care.

Under the law, the federal government pays almost all of the cost of covering those who become eligible for Medicaid due to the expansion.

The Kansas Hospital Association has estimated that Kansas will forgo $380 million in federal funding this year by not expanding Medicaid.

Kansas is one of 22 states that so far have declined to expand their Medicaid programs.

Freshman Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, said expanding Medicaid might be good for the hospitals in his district, but he’s not sure whether voters in that conservative part of southwest Kansas are ready to accept it.

“I’m not sure there’s a consensus yet in my community,” Francis said.