At panel on healthcare policy, Kansas health system execs, advocates detail benefits of Medicaid expansion

Bobby Olm-Shipman said Medicaid expansion would help reduce reliance on expensive emergency department services by giving lower income Kansas access to cheaper preventive care.

Expanding Medicaid in the state would provide around 135,000 Kansans with access to coverage and help ease the burden on expensive emergency care services, participants in a panel discussion on healthcare policy in Overland Park said on Sunday.

The panel, organized by Rep. Cindy Holscher, featured two healthcare executives — St. Luke’s Health System South/East Region President and CEO Bobby Olm-Shipman and Vibrant Health CEO Patrick Sallee — and the leader of a non-profit advocacy group, Alliance for a Healthy Kansas Senior Policy Advisor Sheldon Weisgrau.

Rep. Cindy Holscher, a proponent of Medicaid expansion, organized the panel.

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, 36 states have adopted Medicaid expansion, which makes the government’s health insurance program for lower income Americans open to more people. The bulk of the cost of expansion is born by the United States government, with federal tax dollars covering 90 percent or more of the expense.

Weisgrau noted that Kansas had foregone about $3.3 billion in federal tax money it could have gotten from expanding Medicaid — and that the state’s taxpayers have essentially been underwriting Medicaid expansion programs in other states.

“We don’t pay less federal taxes because Kansas doesn’t participate. Instead our money is going to 36 other states,” Weisgrau noted.

Weisgrau categorized concerns that Medicaid expansion would be unsustainable financially over the long run as baseless.

Olm-Shipman said expanding access to health insurance would help lower income people get access to preventive care — which is often the most economical to deliver — as opposed to waiting until their health care issues become a crisis. Providing care in the emergency department, he said, is typically very expensive and resource intensive.

“Quite frankly, those patients are taking up beds and resources that, if some of that preventive care had been provided earlier on, they might not be taking up those resources,” Olm-Shipman. “Some of this stuff can be prevented if there were access to care. And so that’s what Medicaid would mean to us: Better care for our citizens and all of our communities.”

Weisgrau noted that a Medicaid expansion bill had made it through the legislature in 2017, but didn’t have the votes to override a veto from Gov. Sam Brownback. This past session, he noted, Republican Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park refused to let a bill come up for debate.

Denning did not respond to an inquiry sent via email Sunday afternoon about his position on the Senate taking up a Medicaid expansion bill in 2020. In an interview with Jim McLean of the Kansas News Service earlier this summer, he indicated a willingness to take up healthcare policy next session.

Holscher, a Democrat, announced in April that she will run for Denning’s Senate seat in 2020. In her campaign announcement, she focused on Denning’s opposition to Medicaid expansion in previous years as among her top motivations for running.