- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Health care analysts say Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to cut money for Medicaid health coverage for the needy, disabled and elderly will add to the problems that some hospitals are facing.

Already, some had raised concerns that the state’s decision to not expand Medicaid was harming health care providers when the 4 percent Medicaid reimbursement cut was announced last month, The Wichita Eagle (https://bit.ly/1ZQUX2c ) reports. The cut takes effect July 1.

Right now, Kansas residents who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough for federal subsidies fall into a coverage gap. When patients are uninsured and can’t pay, the hospitals must pick up the bill.

“This decision to make these cuts is really a decision to balance the budget on the shoulders of providers and patients around the state,” said Cindy Samuelson, vice president for public relations at the Kansas Hospital Association.

Brownback made the cuts to help fill the state’s budget hole, with some exemptions for rural hospitals and home- and community-based services for people with disabilities. That means physicians, dentists, pharmacies and hospitals in urban areas, such as Wichita and Kansas City, will account for most of the $38 million cut to provider reimbursement rates.

Budget director Shawn Sullivan said the cuts “were not easy decisions.”

Via Christi Health, the largest hospital system in the state, announced Tuesday it will cut 70 positions not tied directly to patient care, after trimming 80 jobs through attrition in the past three months. The health system, however, will add 80 jobs, most of them nurses.

Via Christi director of government relations Bruce Witt said the system estimates the reimbursement cuts will cost the hospital $4.3 million a year. That’s in addition to $14 million per year that Via Christi was losing from the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid.

Providers would likely further limit the number of Medicaid patients they accept, or stop accepting Medicaid patients all together, according to Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, which is part of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.

Weisgrau said rural hospitals would increasingly turn to the community for tax increases or other measures to make up for lost reimbursements. For example, the South Central Kansas Medical Center in Arkansas City is having its debt paid off by residents through a 1 percent sales tax hike. The hospital also started cutting $750,000 from its costs for the year.

“At some point, the communities can’t afford to do that and you see the hospitals go under,” he said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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