More than 9,000 people in Independence, Kansas will soon be without a hospital, thanks to Governor Sam Brownback’s refusal to expand Medicaid in the state and officials are warning that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The community’s only hospital, Mercy Hospital System, announced that it will be closing its doors and administrators are blaming the Republican governor’s partisan politics for their inability to serve the people in Independence.
Republican state Senator Jeff King has been one of the most vocal opponents of Medicaid expansion in the state. He is so opposed to the idea of helping the working poor that he’s refused to even allow a conversation on the matter to take place. Well, King was opposed to the idea until Mercy, which is in his district, announced its closure- and now the Senator is urging Republicans to take a second look at the Affordable Care Act and figure out a way to implement it. Brownback, however, does not care that thousands of people are about to be without a hospital and he certainly isn’t taking the blame.
When he was asked about the hospital closing, he said that Kansas’ refusal to expand Medicaid isn’t to blame:
“They should blame it on Obamacare. That took a bunch of money out of Medicare, which our hospitals here are far more dependent on Medicare than they are on Medicaid.”
Mercy’s spokeswoman said the GOP’s anti-Medicaid agenda is exactly what is to blame for the healthcare center going out of business:
Joanne Smith, spokeswoman for Mercy in Independence, said that expanding Medicaid would have brought the hospital an estimated $1.6 million in additional annual revenue. “And that’s very significant for a small hospital like ours,” she said.
When Brownback and his fellow Republicans refused to expand the state’s Medcaid program they also gave up billions of dollars in federal funding that would help hospitals offset their costs. It is exactly the same thing Rick Scott did in Florida. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government agreed to give states that expanded health coverage to low-income citizens billions of dollars from the Low-Income Pool (LPI). The LPI money helps hospitals and clinics, like Mercy, pay for the treatment of the uninsured. However, the states also knew that they would forfeit the money if they refused to expand the program, because has they been onboard with the healthcare law there would have been fewer uninsured people.
Brownback said “no” to the ACA and left more than 60,000 people without medical coverage in his state, but in doing so he also gave up the LPI money. This took the safety net away from hospitals and in Mercy’s case, left them unable to keep their doors open- but they may be only the first to fall.
The Kansas Hospital Association, has warned lawmakers that more closures are coming and they say that the refusal to expand Medicaid has cost the state $738 million dollars, as of Monday.
“I think we figured out it’s about 12 dollars a second,” said Tom Bell, the association’s president.
The Center for American Progress reported that Brownback’s decision to lay partisan politics with people’s healthcare will ultimately cost the state of Kansas $3.5 billion in economic activity by 2020. And instead of the 4,000 jobs that could have been created, hundreds of people will be laid off when the hospitals start closing their doors. How fiscally responsible does that sound?
The far-right governor and his GOP buddies in the legislature are deliberately killing the state’s economy because they refuse to admit that “Obamacare” is a good thing. It’s no different from what we are witnessing in other red states like Florida and Texas.
The people in Independence, Kansas now have to travel anywhere from 16 to 20 miles in order to reach a hospital. The Republican governors who are playing games with their state’s healthcare system are not just causing people to lose their jobs or making the state lose money, they are risking people’s lives. It’s widely known that there is a “golden hour” in emergency medicine and a patient’s best chance of survival is if they receive medical care within that hour. Twenty miles are a lot to travel when you are having a heart attack, stroke or if you’ve been in a horrific accident.
The sad reality is that many people could lose their lives, because the GOP cares more about hating the Obama Administration, than helping their constituents. All of this could be solved — the economic problems and the medical problems — if these politicians would just put their political platforms aside and do the jobs they were elected to do.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.