Lawrence resident Jennifer Weishaar, 34, is hoping Kansas will expand the eligibility for its Medicaid program so she can qualify for the program and ultimately take care of her health needs.
“There’s a lot of medications that I should be on and a lot of stuff that I’m not taking care of with my doctor because it’s a lot of money,” said Weishaar, who has been unemployed for about one year.
She opted to purchase the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan that’s offered through the Affordable Care Act in case of a medical crisis. That plan is costing her $240 per month and the deductible is $2,500. She said it doesn’t cover all of the medications that she needs, so she has opted to go without because she also has to pay for groceries, rent and utilities.
“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “We don’t value prevention. We don’t value health in our country.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, Kansas has the option of expanding the program to cover people under age 65 who have an income that’s 133 percent of the federal poverty level or less. That’s about $15,000 for an individual or $30,000 for a family of four. Kansas hasn’t made a decision yet.
Weishaar along with an estimated 151,000 other Kansans would become eligible if the state adopts the expansion, according to the Kansas Health Institute.
Weishaar was one of four panelists who spoke Monday night about Medicaid expansion and how it could affect Douglas County residents. About 60 people attended the meeting at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The other panelists were: Lawrence Memorial Hospital President and CEO Gene Meyer, Heartland Community Health Center CEO Jon Stewart and Scott Brunner, Kansas Health Institute senior analyst.
The meeting began with an overview of the Medicaid program, which provides services for about 340,000 low-income, elderly and disabled residents.
Meyer said his biggest concern is that only two of the community’s 10 primary care practices are accepting Medicaid now. As a result, many Medicaid beneficiaries are seeking primary care in the emergency room. He estimated that 20 percent of the hospital’s 37,000 annual visits could have been handled in a doctor’s office.
State Sen. Marci Francisco asked Meyer why the hospital couldn’t refer those patients elsewhere.
“I don’t want to go to jail. That’s why. We are really handcuffed” when it comes to federal regulations, he said. The hospital is required by law to take care of patients who come to the ER. He said LMH tries to provide the care with nurse practitioners so the costs are lower.
Stewart said his clinic soon will be able to take care of more Medicaid patients because it was named a Federally Qualified Health Center this summer. That designation comes with a $650,000 annual grant and increased reimbursement rate.
“We are excited to be growing and to be building our capacity now,” he said.
The panel discussion also focused on the importance of providing preventive care instead of acute care to not only benefit patients but to help keep costs down.
After the discussion, Anna Lambertson, executive director of the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, said she thought the event generated more questions than answers about a complex system, but she was glad to hear the dialogue.
"It's an important topic that affects thousands of Kansans," she said.