My name is Sister Janice Thome. I serve persons who are hungry and poor in Garden City. The discussion on Medicaid expansion must be reframed by the dire realities faced by rural Kansas.
The first reality is expansion will improve access. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment classifies 70 out of Kansas' 105 counties as “rural” or “frontier.” When the Affordable Care Act went into effect, these counties saw unpaid services rise for hospitals and doctor. Since Kansas chose not to expand KanCare, funds that were supposed to cover these costs never arrived.
This political decision has increased hardship in rural Kansas, which already struggles economically due to stubbornly low commodity prices. Some rural hospitals have had their mill levies almost double in recent years. Many hospitals are facing closure, which would force their clients to travel increasingly longer distances to see a doctor.
How can we treat our Kansas residents — Kansans who spent their life on the land, paying taxes and growing our food — like this? I beg you to see the injustice in this. To those Kansans who live in well-resourced cities, I plead you to step into the reality of rural communities.
Garden City is large enough to support more medical staff than other towns in southwest Kansas. But I still drive my neighbors to Liberal, over 60 miles away, to visit a dermatologist, and to Wichita, over 200 miles away, to visit a rheumatoid specialist.
A second reality is that Medicaid expansion helps the “working poor” — people struggling with low paying jobs without benefits who can’t afford private insurance. They’ve fallen into the cracks, unable to qualify for Medicaid without expansion.
Sister Roserita Weber and I have worked with families in Garden City for 22 years. Without coverage, Kansas are making difficult, desperate choices. We have watched a family lose a dad in his 30s because he didn’t go to the ER until too late. Why? Because the family still had a hospital bill they were paying off and couldn’t afford another.
We know a woman with esophagus problems. She waits until she is unable to eat and swallow anything but water before going to Wichita for care. I fill her tank with gas so she does not have to worry about that cost, too. She is raising two grandchildren, and her goal is to live long enough for them to be out on their own. Our friends and families are suffering and dying for lack of health insurance!
These persons are two of the 150,000 of our fellow Kansans who lack the means to afford health care. We see many more opt for low quality care. People are choosing between filling prescriptions and paying their utility bills.
I am writing to encourage readers to contact your state legislators. Let them know the great need to support poor and working class Kansans by allowing them to access the medical care. Please urge your legislators to pressure leadership to allow KanCare Expansion to the floor.
Sister Janice Thome,