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Via Christi, Ascension continue push for KanCare expansion

Dave Kerr KanCare expansion

Via Christi and a coalition of 26 business and healthcare organizations are continuing their push to persuade reluctant Kansas GOP lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback to expand the state’s KanCare Medicaid program.

The coalition sponsored a second public forum on Tuesday, Jan. 5, in Overland Park to educate state lawmakers about the advantages of expanding the KanCare insurance program to an additional 138,000 Kansans who are struggling financially, including more than 70,000 of whom are working. 

The forum, held at Johnson County Community College, drew 300 people, including more than 30 state lawmakers, and highlights can be seen in the recap video below. It advanced the dialogue begun during the first forum, held Nov. 3 in Wichita.

For the second time, Kansas state legislators, business leaders and other key stakeholders heard from Indiana leaders about how that state’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor’s office developed a plan to expand its Healthy Indiana Medicaid program. Kansas and Indiana both have Republican-controlled state governments. 

Via Christi and St. Vincent Health in Indianapolis are both members of Ascension, the nation’s largest non-profit health system. St. Vincent has partnered with Via Christi to show Kansas political leaders how Indiana expanded healthcare coverage for the poor despite its Republican governor’s fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act. 

Ascension, whose mission is to serve those who are struggling financially, has made expanding Medicaid a top priority because only 14 of the 23 states, plus Washington, D.C., in which it has health ministries have expanded the program.

Doug Leonard, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, said there was both a “moral” and a “business imperative” to expand access to healthcare coverage because a major illness or health crisis often tips people into bankruptcy if they don’t have insurance coverage.

Former Kansas Senate President Dave Kerr, a Republican and fiscal conservative, presented a financial analysis that showed expanding KanCare could help solve the state’s severe budget crisis. He said an investment of $40 million to expand KanCare in 2017 would yield $218 million in annual federal revenue and state costs savings on other health programs. By the year 2020, the state’s investment would rise to $91 million but that would generate $239 million in federal revenue and costs savings.

“That, we would contend, is a number you just can’t ignore,” Kerr said. 

Rep. Mark Hutton, a Wichita Republican, said the coalition’s financial projections deserve a close examination by the state Legislature. But he added that it will take strong leadership to overcome the Republican majority's deep-seated opposition to the ACA, known as Obamacare.

“If you really want to move the needle on this issue, it takes leadership on the part of our governor,” Hutton said. So far, Kansas Gov. Brownback has steadfastly resisted pressure to expand the KanCare program.

The coalition advocating to expand the program includes the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, seven other chambers and every major healthcare organization in Kansas.

Ascension Chief Advocacy Officer Peter Leibold and Via Christi CEO Jeff Korsmo attended the second forum and said the healthy dialogue with state lawmakers was helping to build momentum for expanding KanCare and extending coverage to working Kansans and others who need it.