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SPOTLIGHT
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Putting a value on healthy workers

Published on -12/11/2012, 11:06 AM

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There's an interesting question bouncing around the Statehouse after the state received the apparent OK to implement its dramatic new way to provide health care for relatively poor Kansans who can't afford or aren't covered by health insurance.

That pivotal OK -- that the federal government will allow Kansas to contract out to private businesses the management of health care for Kansans who receive Medicaid coverage -- is touted to save the state some $400 million during the next five years.

Now, taking care of the health needs of the poor is one of those things that makes you feel good. We're Kansans; we take care of one another.

But, go to the strictly business side of the feel-good program, and it's obvious that those private, for-profit care managers have a good reason to make sure poor Kansans are healthy. They'll make more money if they keep their clients healthy, and that's not bad at all. Whatever keeps Kansans healthy or heals them after accidents is a good thing.

So the question bouncing around is whether Gov. Sam Brownback will use some of that savings to the state (the state portion of the funding of Medicaid, about 40 percent of the program's cost here) to keep more Kansans healthy.

That's the interesting part. The Affordable Care Act (go ahead, call it Obamacare if you want, President Barack Obama doesn't mind) includes a provision that would allow states to boost the incomes that families can earn and still qualify for Medicaid, or KanCare, as we're going to start calling it on Jan.1.

The deal: The federal government pays all of the cost of the expansion for the first two years, and after that, the state would pick up 10 percent of the cost of that expansion of services to more people. The price tag to the state after that two-year period? Probably hundreds of millions of dollars. Would $400 million cover it? Who knows?

But there's this other consistent priority of Brownback: To put Kansans to work, to get them the education they need to become a solid asset for businesses which move to Kansas or expand in Kansas, to grow the economy.

Wondering whether keeping maybe 100,000 more Kansans healthy and more kids in school instead of at home sick has an economic benefit that is about the same as lowering taxes to spur the economy?

Around the Statehouse, there isn't a handy figure on what keeping 100,000 or more Kansans healthy is worth. You'd presume it means there are less sick days at work, and more productivity occurs, and that's got to be good.

And you'd have to figure that more kids healthy and in school means fewer of them are not dropping behind their healthy classmates, and presumably getting smarter and more ready for jobs when they are done. (Anyone else miss that school day on long division?)

That's gotta be some fiscal advantage to Kansas employers.

It's probably worth someone figuring out (feeling good about taking care of Kansans aside) whether the Medicaid expansion might just pay for itself.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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