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Expansion: Morally, fiscally the right thing

I have the privilege of serving an organization whose religious founders instilled in our health ministry the moral conviction that every person deserves access to health care.

At Via Christi, our commitment to serving as a healing presence to the most vulnerable among us means the debate over whether Kansas should expand the Medicaid health insurance program comes down to a moral question. We believe it's simply the right thing to do -- caring for the least fortunate among us.

We also believe that expanding Medicaid is the right decision to protect jobs and help enhance our state's business climate.

Via Christi appreciates the thoughtful approach Governor Brownback has taken regarding the decision on whether to expand Medicaid coverage to lower-income Kansas residents who don't have health insurance. We also understand the challenge of forecasting the financial impact of a yes or a no decision.

However, as a Catholic health care ministry, we believe expanding access to health care to an additional population of very low-income Kansans fits squarely within our mission to serve all who need our medical care.  

In deciding that Ohio should move forward with Medicaid expansion, Republican Governor John Kasich said he was guided by his "personal faith in the lessons I learned from the" Bible. "I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them," he said.

A decision against extending Medicaid coverage to more Kansans also will have a severe financial impact on health care providers, potentially forcing some to eliminate jobs. Hospitals already are absorbing significant cuts in reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act. For Via Christi, these revenue cuts amount to a reduction of $22 million a year. Expanding Medicaid would restore about one-third of that lost revenue, but Via Christi still would have to absorb more than $14 million in reimbursement cuts.

Via Christi and other Kansas health care providers already serve those who would benefit from Medicaid expansion when they become so sick they need care in our emergency rooms -- and we absorb those costs as unreimbursed charity care.

Via Christi has supported Gov. Brownback's goals of reforming the state's Medicaid system through the new KanCare managed health program. Under this program, we believe we can improve the overall health of lower-income Kansans and, as a result, lower health care costs for businesses that today subsidize the uninsured through higher private health insurance premiums.

Accomplishing this goal -- lowering health care costs through improved care management -- also will fuel economic growth, one of the governor's top priorities.

We believe KanCare could become a model for other states to replicate. But if Kansas decides against Medicaid expansion, we will be left with the worst of both worlds: providing more uncompensated care for Kansans still not eligible for Medicaid while receiving less money from the federal government to cover these costs.

Jeff Korsmo is the president and CEO of Via Christi Health, the largest health care system in Kansas.