Difficult budget issues confronting the 1993 Legislature are tied to escalating health-care costs, Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, said Wednesday.
"The first thing we have to do is attack health-care costs," she said. "Health-care costs are driving federal and state budget deficits."
She said the Legislature's policy and budget decisions on workers compensation, insurance, taxes and other issues were influenced by health-care costs.
"The state can hardly afford Medicaid . . . which is just for low-income people," she said.
Charlton and Sen.-elect Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, joined two advocates for the elderly in a panel discussion on priorities of the 1993 legislative session.
THE MEETING was sponsored by the Kaw Valley Chapter of Older Women's League and focused on health care and nursing home issues.
Panelist JoAnn Wiley, Douglas County's representative to the Silver-Haired Legislature, said the group's top priority was convincing the Legislature to remove a payment "cap" on Medicaid assistance for low-income elderly residents who qualify for nursing home care.
Because of the cap, a Kansan's nursing home expenses above $1,266 a month aren't paid by Medicare. Yet, the average cost for nursing home care in Kansas is about $2,000 a month.
"It's producing terrific pain for a lot of people," said panelist Walter "Hobb" Crockett, a member of a state legislative committee with the American Association of Retired Persons.
Crockett said the state established the cap to reduce the number of Kansans in nursing homes. Kansas ranks in the top 10 in the United States in nursing home beds.
PRAEGER said the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services wants to place new restrictions on which clients can be placed in a nursing home.
The agency's goal will be to force people into community programs and move the state away from institutional care, she said.
Praeger said the problem was that it could take years for some Kansas cities to develop community programs to meet the demand for care.
"I'm afraid for those people whose needs are not being met in the interim," she said. "If you put a lid on the number of nursing home beds available what happens to the quality of care? It might encourage mediocrity."
Charlton said Kansas can't afford a system that guarantees health care to all Kansans. The burden must fall to the federal government, she said.
"I do not see how our state can deal with the problem," she said.
Crockett said Gov. Joan Finney and the Legislature shouldn't be afraid to raise taxes to pay for better health-care services.
"When I talk with state legislators, they say `No,' " he said. "What they say is, `I enjoy being a state legislator.' "