Lawmakers may reconsider Medicaid expansion as rural hospitals struggle to stay open

TOPEKA (KSNT) – For the first time in nine years a Kansas hospital has closed its doors. Earlier this week Mercy Hospital in Independence announced it could no longer afford to operate, citing several problems including major changes to the health insurance industry.

In this day and age rural America faces many challenges, but the fear of losing your local hospital isn’t one you think about.

“It would be a big burden for the whole community. I don’t think they know how fortunate we are to have this hospital, and if it had to close down then they would really, really miss it,” said Holton Resident Floyd Gruver.

It’s a reality many rural communities face.

When the Affordable Healthcare act took effect, it cut Medicare payments to all hospitals by two percent.

“We are looking at different avenues. How can we bring in additional revenue knowing that we’re not going to get paid anymore or knowing that we’re going to get paid less. It’s very, very tough, but fortunately right now we’re still a viable, profitable organization,” said Carrie Saia, CEO of Holton Community Hospital.

Congress hoped states would expand their Medicaid programs to offset the cut.

But Kansas is one of 24 states that decided not to expand the program, so hospitals like Holton aren’t getting any extra business.

It’s even worse in the southern part of the state.

“We’re fortunate within the Northeast area of the state to not have as large or as high of poverty population as we do within Southeast Kansas. That’s where you see it’s even harder or more challenging to make ends meet when you have more and more people who are either self-insured or having high deductible plans,” said Saia.

She worries if Medicaid isn’t opened to those people who really need it, more hospitals may have to close their doors.

Right now she thinks politics is getting in the way.

“I know expanding within the state seems like such a political issue, when really just looking at what do, what does our population of the state of Kansas need?” said Saia.

For right now the Holton Community Hospital is doing all right, but in order to ensure no other rural hospitals have to close their doors in the near future, the Legislature will likely have to act.

Because that hospital in Independence is closing, several GOP lawmakers have said they will be more open to the idea of expanding the state’s Medicaid system when the Legislature re-convenes in January.

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