Let’s be clear: Expanding Medicaid might not have been enough to save St. Francis Health, the Topeka hospital that stands on the brink of closure.
But few doubt that the millions of dollars that expansion would have brought to the nonprofit Catholic health center would have made a substantial difference. Most likely, the doors would have remained open for months longer. In the words of House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a “lifeline” would have been extended.
Despite an outpouring of local support, including a vigil Monday evening that doctors, nurses, clergy and patients attended, the hospital’s Denver-based owners announced Tuesday they will take another two weeks to decide if they will shutter the hospital. Hanging in the balance are 1,600 jobs, a critical link in the health care system and an institution with a mission of caring for the poor.
But a silver lining may be emerging, and it could turn this potential tragedy — and that’s what this is — into something far more positive. The long-rumored closing of St. Francis is resulting in renewed interest at the state Capitol just down the street in trying again to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s Medicaid expansion veto. Lawmakers return for a wrapup session in May.
In early April, the Legislature came closer than ever to an override, falling just three votes short in the House. That would have ranked as a stunning rebuke to a governor who has steadfastly opposed expansion in his state ever since the Affordable Care Act came along.
But with St. Francis so close by, many lawmakers now are getting a clear view of what a hospital closure does to a community. In 2015, Mercy Hospital in Independence closed, but that was in far southeast Kansas. Now hospitals in Fort Scott and Wellington are also said to be in dire financial straits. This thing is snowballing.
All this may finally be changing minds in Topeka. And it should. Medicaid expansion would be a huge step forward. Not only would 150,000 more low-income Kansans receive vital health coverage, but taxpayers also could stop the ridiculous practice of exporting their tax dollars to other states to cover health care needs there. Instead, that money, and lots more, would stay home.
Wrap your arms around this number: Kansas health care providers have lost out on more than $1.8 billion because lawmakers have refused to expand Medicaid.
Some lawmakers, Ward told the Kansas News Services, are experiencing “buyer’s remorse.”
In fact, pro-Medicaid expansion forces are indicating they’re open to compromises that could garner more backing, including one that would require job training for non-disabled adults covered by expansion.
Those compromises would be worth it to achieve a greater good.
Meantime, Brownback’s spokeswoman says the governor is doing what he can to keep the hospital’s doors open. That, however, doesn’t appear to include a change of heart on expansion, a position that is heartless in itself.
Brownback says he’s working to ensure that the charitable assets of St. Francis remain in Kansas if the hospital closes. But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley is right when he called this maneuver a smokescreen to divert attention from the governor’s refusal to do what’s right.
And that’s finally expanding Medicaid.