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Medicaid expansion a win-win for Kansas

Published on -7/31/2014, 10:12 AM

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Health-care facilities large and small are baffled by Gov. Sam Brownback's unwillingness to join 25 other states in accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, a program designed to assist low-income and uninsured Kansans. But time remains for Kansas to switch course and do what is right.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the hard-working Kansas taxpayers sent no less than $24 billion to Washington in federal tax payments during Fiscal Year 2013. To the 1.5 million Kansans who pay federal income tax, the figure is nothing less than mind boggling. So, it should go without saying our governor and members of the Kansas Legislature should be working 24/7 to ensure as many of these dollars find their way back to Kansas as possible.

In a recent story, the Wall Street Journal took the issue of federal taxation a step further by publishing a study conducted by the Tax Foundation which listed the amount of federal dollars returned to individual states. According to the report, Kansas gets a return of 71 cents of every dollar sent to Washington. On the other hand, our neighbor to the deep south, Texas, cashes in with $1.43 for every dollar paid in income tax.

Mississippi leads the nation with $3.07 returned to their state's coffers for every dollar remitted in federal tax.

I commend three Kansas governors, representing both political persuasions, along with Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts working in tandem with Kansas State University for all they did to bring the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility to Manhattan. In the most recent fiscal year, an appropriation of nearly $900 million was included in the budget to continue that project.

In past years, Kansas accepted federal funds to assist in the four-lane expansion of U.S. Highway 61 to McPherson; $48 million to construct a bypass around South Hutchinson; and $4 million for expansion of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, all with successful outcomes. So, why is our governor so adamant in his opposition to the Medicaid expansion?

Today, there are 369,000 uninsured Kansans. Should our state change its mind and accept the federal funds designed for Medicaid expansion, the number of uninsured Kansans would decline by nearly 50 percent that day.

Also, the federal program would act as a boom to Kansas' economy by creating as many as 5,000 new jobs required to administer the program.

After the initial three-year introductory period for the program, the federal government would continue paying for 90 percent of the Medicaid expansion.

Critics claim there are strings attached to the program. Actually, there are guidelines and parameters on all federal programs as there should be. Taxpayers deserve to know these funds are being allocated for the intended purpose. It is interesting to note if Kansas, after three years, thought the program was detrimental to our state's well being, the state could opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

The health-care industry contributes greatly to the Kansas economy. In a study conducted by the Kansas State University Research and Extension Department, it is reported the state's hospitals employ 82,000 health-care professionals with an annual payroll of $5 billion. For every dollar generated by hospitals, another 48 cents is created for other businesses that support the health-care industry.

Kansas' health-care facilities are at the crossroads. Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System provides support to hospitals throughout our service area that stretches west from Hutchinson to Colorado and south to Oklahoma. It is not uncommon for our hospital to receive a referral from a clinic in towns with a population of 300 or less.

Those health-care facilities are the lifeblood for rural America. They, like Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System, are being stretched with changes to health care and even more so with our state's reluctance to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid expansion will provide breathing room for health-care facilities large and small and border to border in Kansas.

At the same time, health-care facilities throughout the nation annually write off $1 billion in uncompensated care. Hutchinson Regional Medical Center's share of that staggering figure is nothing less than $20 million.

I have heard all the arguments, both pro and con, on Medicaid expansion, and am at a total loss as to what the downside of accepting these funds might be.

Brownback and his leadership team should know the federal funds Kansas declines won't be placed in a lock box for future generations. They will, instead, be allocated to another state.

Perhaps, Texas and Mississippi might be the benefactor of Kansas' refusal to accept federal monies to expand Medicaid.

For the next 90 days, candidates for governor and the Kansas House of Representatives will be criss-crossing the state asking for our vote. When they visit your hometowns, I urge readers of this column to ask for their support to expand Medicaid and bring relief to both the less fortunate citizens of our state along with the health-care facilities that serve Kansas.

Kevin Miller is president and CEO

of Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System.

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