Editorial: A Kansas plan

Other states are finding ways to tailor Medicaid expansion programs to meet their individual needs. Kansas should try to do the same.

Officials at two hospitals of special interest to Lawrence are sounding the alarm about the impact the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid is having on their institutions.

They are joined by the Kansas Hospital Association, which recently released a report that indicates the state lost $334 million in federal funding in 2014 and stands to lose another $380 million next year by not expanding Medicaid. The report estimates that decision resulted in 3,000 fewer jobs being created in 2014 — not just jobs in health care fields but in other sectors where health care workers would spend their earnings.

Perhaps the biggest impact, however, is felt by Kansas hospitals, which are receiving reduced reimbursement for Medicare patients while seeing their costs for indigent care grow. Medicare payments were reduced to help pay for the expanded Medicaid program, but since Kansas rejected that expansion, those dollars are simply being lost to Kansas providers and going to other states that expanded their Medicaid programs.

Kansas University Hospital officials announced this week that they were undertaking a major reorganization to try to deal with the revenue loss, but told the Kansas Board of Regents that even with the reorganization, the lack of Medicaid expansion will continue to hamper the hospital’s growth. KU Hospital lost over $100 million in Medicare reimbursements last year, according to Bob Page, hospital president and CEO, and its uncompensated care costs rose to $59 million. The rate of uncompensated care in Kansas “actually grew more than any other state in the United States last year,” according to Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center. While California and Washington, two states that expanded Medicare, cut their uncompensated care rate below 3 percent, Girod said, the rate in Kansas soared by more than 12 percent.

Gene Meyer, president and CEO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, also addressed the situation with Medicaid (known as KanCare in Kansas) in a column published in Monday’s Journal-World. LMH will write off about $15 million in charity care this year and an estimated $16 million next year.

The Kansas governor and state legislators are adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid but other states that initially took the same stand are finding ways to tailor Medicaid programs to meet their individual requirements. If the KanCare program is expanded in 2016, the hospital association estimates, Kansas could receive more than $2.2 billion in federal funds over the next five years — money that would provide care for thousands of Kansas residents, while also supporting the Kansas economy.

As Meyer noted in his column, Kansas has an opportunity to “thoughtfully develop a unique, Kansas-based solution” to use federal funds to enhance the KanCare program. We urge state lawmakers to give this issue another look.