In virtual forum, Kelly, Davids, Bollier and Sebelius stress need for Medicaid expansion in Kansas

photo by: Screenshot via Zoom

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Tom Bell, CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier and former Gov. Kathleen Sebeilus speak during a virtual health care webinar on September 8, 2020.

Four high-profile Kansas Democrats gathered virtually Tuesday to discuss what they deemed a pressing need to expand the Sunflower State’s access to Medicaid — a need they said was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Laura Kelly; U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids; Kathleen Sebelius, who formerly served as Kansas governor and secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and current U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier spent just under an hour highlighting the need for better access to health care in Kansas and the importance of protecting those with pre-existing conditions in future health care legislation.

Tom Bell, CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association, moderated the discussion among the four women — all of whom have years of experience either in health care or advocating for expanding access to it. Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist and a state legislator of nearly a decade, said she’s been disappointed repeatedly by the Kansas Legislature’s inability to pass Medicaid expansion, and it’s become an issue that is now actively hampering the state economy.

“Our businesses need this. Not every business can afford to provide health care coverage for their employees. We know that,” Bollier said. “It is an economic issue for the very people that want everyone working.”

Studies have estimated that expanding access to Medicaid in Kansas would provide health care to between 130,000 and 150,000 low-income Kansans, while also generating millions of dollars in additional revenue for hospitals across the state. In January, for example, LMH Health leaders estimated that Medicaid expansion would improve the hospital’s finances by several million dollars and that it would provide coverage to thousands of uninsured Douglas County residents, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Kelly, who has long been an ardent supporter of expanding Medicaid, echoed Bollier’s comments about the economic benefits of expansion. She said that while affordable health care is the top priority in expansion efforts, it also has a ripple effect in the Kansas economy — even though the state may have to spend more money in the beginning.

Not expanding Medicaid comes with consequences in several areas, Kelly said.

“That’s going to impact so many things — obviously our workforce will be less healthy than other states, and we’ll have more difficulty recruiting providers because we don’t have Medicaid expansion,” she said. “It’s going to be very, very hard for Kansas to recruit providers into the state when they won’t get reimbursed for seeing patients who aren’t on Medicaid. There are a host of economic and health care reasons that we need to expand this.”

At the federal level, Davids said there is much work to be done in terms of holding onto Medicaid expansion efforts and ensuring those with pre-existing conditions are protected in all health care legislation.

“There’s a lot of work for us to do from the federal perspective,” Davids said. “I’ve been advocating for Medicaid expansion since before I even took office, but I really doubled down on that once I got to D.C.”

Sebelius, who served as governor from 2003 to 2009 before serving in President Barack Obama’s administration for five years, concurred with the need to expand Medicaid in Kansas and was highly critical of the current presidential administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you have no leadership from the White House, when you have a president who refused to acknowledge this was a serious crisis, who refused to talk about what the science said, who blocked people who were the scientists … from being clear and direct to the public on a regular basis and who did not provide the unique logistical and financial support that only the federal government can do, it really left people on their own,” Sebelius said.

“God help us when we get to a safe and effective vaccine,” she said. “Who can we trust to say when it’s safe and effective, and secondly can we trust the distribution system to be transparent and equitable? … Right now I think we’re still in a situation of every person for his- or herself, and that’s a very dangerous place to be with a virus that’s still circulating wildly and killing people each and every day.”


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