The Garden City Telegram
12/25/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Expanded KanCare good for area

Expanded KanCare good for area

By SCOTT TAYLOR

As every farmer and rancher knows, agriculture can be a very dangerous business, and when an accident occurs, time and distance from help often make a life-or-death difference. Providing access to emergency and critical care services for the people living in western Kansas is one of St. Catherine Hospital's most important responsibilities, and we take it very seriously.

While St. Catherine has a strong financial position, many of Kansas' other Critical Access Hospitals are struggling to survive. Kansas has the most CAHs of any state, and we all play an essential role in supporting the primary and emergent health care needs of sparsely populated, remote areas. Unlike St. Catherine, most CAHs rely on local taxes to help keep the doors open. Because at least half of the state's CAHs already are losing money and their tax base cannot support more cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, a number of small CAHs are in danger of having to limit services or close.

The Kansas Legislature is considering expanding KanCare, the state's Medicaid program, to take advantage of some $800 million in federal dollars over three years. Medicaid expansion would help preserve locally accessible health care in a large portion of rural Kansas, including Garden City.

An expansion of KanCare would assure that a segment of our population that is currently without health insurance coverage would have improved access to both physician services as well as hospital services, making prevention and primary care a reality for these individuals. For St. Catherine, an expansion of KanCare potentially means that the hospital would receive reimbursement from federal sources for low-income working poor for whom we currently provide and finance care as a ministry of the Catholic Church.

Expanding KanCare coverage would be financed 100 percent by federal dollars for the first three years, and 90 percent after 2016. Kansas should get its fair share of federal dollars set aside for Medicaid expansion.

One of the few private, non-tax supported hospitals in western Kansas, St. Catherine would be able to access additional funds that could be used for jobs and infrastructure to ensure that the hospital can have the best trained staff and recruit the best physicians possible to this market.

When I recruit physicians, one of the first questions they have is, "Will I be able to earn a living in Garden City?" By expanding KanCare coverage to those below 100 percent of poverty, physicians will receive some payment for treating these patients. Increasing the medical funding pool will make it easier to recruit physicians to this part of the state, which benefits all of us.

Health care is a major economic hub in Garden City. Almost half of St. Catherine's patients are from outside Finney County. By providing coverage and expanding KanCare, more dollars will come into this community. Those dollars are multiplied across the area and will have a positive impact on the economy of western Kansas.

Without doubt, KanCare is not a perfect program and could be improved. But this system that we have today does provide significant and necessary funding for a portion of the population that does not earn enough money to be able to afford private health insurance, even with federal subsidies. KanCare offers the potential to deliver the right care at the right time in the right setting, and ultimately reduce costs.

Health care providers want to work with Kansas lawmakers and leaders to develop an even better program with more emphasis on prevention. In the meantime, the federal Medicaid expansion dollars that should come home to Kansas can help us bridge our efforts to improve health for every Kansas citizen.

Access resources and learn more at www.ExpandKanCare.org. I think that expanding KanCare is the financially smart thing as well as the right thing to do for rural and western Kansas. Express your support for expanding KanCare and bringing Kansans' tax dollars back home at www.KHAGrassroots.org.

Scott J. Taylor is president/chief executive officer of St. Catherine Hospital.