Archive for Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Too many Kansans lacking health coverage, official says

May 11, 2004


State Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is miffed at the Kansas Legislature.

"The political will" to reduce the ever-increasing number of Kansans without health insurance "doesn't seem to be there," Praeger said Tuesday, addressing a breakfast meeting of area health care officials.

The meeting was part of "Cover the Uninsured Week," a national campaign aimed at calling attention to the plight of 20 million employed Americans who do not have health insurance.

Praeger said her office proposed several initiatives aimed at helping Kansas businesses insure low-income workers. But none passed, she said.

"My guess is that once this begins to affect the middle class, we'll find the will," said Praeger, a moderate Republican and a former legislator from Lawrence.

Noting that 10.5 percent of all Kansans -- about 244,000 men, women and children -- do not have health insurance or are not eligible for Medicaid, Praeger said the crisis required government intervention.

"We cannot expect the private sector to do all of this on its own," she said. "The public sector is going to have to step forward."

Praeger said she and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius were frustrated by reports that 75,000 children in Kansas are uninsured despite efforts to promote HealthWave, the state program for children in families that can't afford health insurance but aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

"For whatever reason, our outreach to these families isn't working," Praeger said.

Families earning between 40 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline -- between $522 and $2,611 a month for a mother and two children -- are eligible for HealthWave.

Kansas-specific studies have shown that 40 percent of those without insurance say they have "gone without health care" because they can't afford it, Praeger said, adding that 55 percent of those who are insured fear becoming uninsured within six months.

"That says we have a lot of people who are living on the edge," Praeger said.

Gene Meyer, president and CEO at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said he expected the uninsured to cost the hospital $3.6 million this year.

"The point I'd like to get everybody to understand is that the more we have to write off in charity care is just that much more we have to try to make up. And the way the hospital makes up those is by spreading them out among our paying customers," Meyer said. "It's not dollar for dollar, but it's in the mix. It's part of what's driving up health care costs."

Last year, the hospital wrote off $3.2 million; in 2002 the total was $2 million.

Not all the news is bad. While 10.5 percent of all Kansans are thought to be uninsured, the national average is 18 percent.

"Or we could be in a state like Texas, where it's 26 or 27 percent -- the highest in the nation," Praeger said.

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