Tale of Two Hospitals: How Failing to Expand Medicaid Hurts Kansans
Posted by Rachel Bezek
April 19, 2017
Healthcare has been a national conversation for years now, going back and forth as the most talked about topic for Americas. Republicans have structured their platform around the Affordable Care Act, while many Democratic candidates have pushed for even further changes toward universal healthcare. It’s estimated that between 6 million and 10 million people are at risk of losing insurance if the Affordable Care act is repealed under this administration — a number so large it’s nearly impossible for most people to comprehend, let alone empathize.
Kansas, even as a deep red state, is beginning to feel the effects of this lack of empathy. In this recent turn of events, the epicenter of this debate is Topeka, Kansas — now facing the possibility of one of the community’s hospitals being shut down due to financial woes. While it’s impossible to say what the causes by the financial troubles were, a statement by St. Francis Hospital said that the lack of medicaid expansion “added pressure” to the hospital.
But — backing up — what lead to all of this?
Kansas was one of the states that originally declined to expand Medicaid as a part of the Affordable Care Act, leaving federal funds on the table that could have covered hundreds of thousands of Kansans. But back in February, the Kansas House voted 83-40 in favor of a bill that would expand Medicaid — known as KanCare in Kansas. This vote was largely unprecedented by my deep red state, and gave many people that were hoping for this expansion a little bit of hope. Even better, the Senate later voted 25-13 in favor of the bill too. Although Kansas was one of 19 states that hadn’t expanded Medicaid, it was beginning to look like we might join the majority of the country and make effort to protect lower income Kansans.
However, the bill was swiftly vetoed by Governor Brownback — who I lovingly call Governor Amnesia, since he can’t remember what’s important to the people he’s meant to serve. With 62% of Kansans supporting the expansion of Medicaid, it became obvious that the veto was on the basis of his own ideology and nothing to do with public opinion or the good of Kansans. An override failed, and so the idea of Medicaid expansion died just as it was in the palms of our hands.
Now, St. Francis is at risk of shutting down, even as one of the two hospitals in Topeka. These two hospitals also serves as the two hospitals of Shawnee county in Kansas, which holds a population of 178,000 people. That number doesn’t account for regular out-of-county patients or people visiting from anywhere that might need emergency services. St. Francis also employs 1,600 people, who will likely be without jobs should the hospital close.
And this is where the state is at the moment. There were talks of an official announcement planned for Tuesday the 19th, then Brownback assured that there wouldn’t. As of now it’s assumed that we’ll know the fate of St. Francis by early May, giving a very small amount of time for a bill to help mend the situation to be presented at the next legislative session on May 1st. With closure of St. Francis seeming more likely with each passing day, that might be one of the only viable options to keep healthcare and emergency services available to Kansans.
It’s sad that it takes ripples as extreme as these to open eyes and get people rallying around an expansion of Medicaid for Kansas. Putting an obscene amount of people at risk and forcing the other hospital, Stormont Vail, to take on a load larger than what they already have is shameful. For those that depend on these hospitals for care, the next few weeks can be a deciding factor for the rest of their lives. In times of emergencies, such as gunshots and heart attacks, an overworked and overcrowded hospital can diminish the quality of care and can turn critical conditions fatal. For the low income individuals and families, the lack of a medicaid expansion and the closing of a hospital can have detrimental effects as well.
All in all, leaving the situation as-is would be a huge loss for the interest of Topekans and Kansans. It’s unlikely that the Governor will budge on his ideology, and I don’t doubt that he’ll let Kansans die in order to further his failed experiment of being the Republican dream state. The lack of a veto override is also concerning, as our legislature is also willing to bend to ideology at expense of others.
The Kansas government lacks the basic empathy to realize the magnitude of the situation, let alone care about those that will be affected by it. As usual, the experiment is favoring a fallacy instead of families. An idea instead of the individuals. A delusion instead of dedication to the Kansas people, the people that need St. Francis to stay open and operating.
Image via Wikimedia Commons