Kansans falling through the cracks want Medicaid expansion

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Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers talks with hospital leaders at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Thursday afternoon, January 31, 2019. Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers talks with hospital leaders at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Thursday afternoon, January 31, 2019.
Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers touring the updated facilities at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph with on Thursday, January 31, 2019. Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers touring the updated facilities at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph with on Thursday, January 31, 2019.
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

“It’s been quite a struggle to stay healthy and stay alive,” said Jimmy Olson.

He’s one of an estimated 150,000 Kansans caught in the gap between being eligible for Medicaid and being able to afford private health insurance.  He applauds the ongoing efforts to expand Medicaid in Kansas.

Olson has worked hard his entire life, owning his own tiling company for the last several years.

“I think I started working out in a grain elevator when I was 16, 17 years old. I’ve been in construction most all my life,” he said.

Despite multiple health problems, from heart attacks to spinal surgery, Jimmy says he wants to keep working.  He’s refused advice to go on disability.

“There’s a lot of hardworking folks like myself that’d like to just keep working and not get on disability. I’ve been offered that myself and refused. Cause I wanted to keep making… working,” he said.  “A lot of people still want to work. And it takes a little health care to be able to keep doing that.”

But it’s costing him.  He’s on the verge of bankruptcy with all the medical bills.

“We had them heart attack issues. And that started out cause of a tooth infection ‘cause I couldn’t afford to go to a dentist,” Jimmy said.

“It’s more about the patients, from our standpoint, what patients are able to receive care,” said Todd Conklin, Chief Operating Officer of Ascension Via Christi, about why his organization supports Medicaid expansion. 

“That’s how I see it, too.  We have a moral imperative as well as an economic imperative,” responded Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers, (D) Kansas.

The lieutenant governor spoke with hospital leaders at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Thursday afternoon.  They discussed how not expanding Medicaid has hurt the entire state.  Ascension Via Christi says it’s had to eliminate 540 jobs since 2013 as its absorbed $42 million in Medicaid reimbursement cuts.  That’s a loss of $34 million in wages in the Wichita economy.

“If that was any other company that was going to move out of Kansas at one time, we would do everything we could in the state to try to save and keep those employees here,” Rogers said.

He added that the state has lost more than $3 billion in federal tax dollars by not expanding Medicaid.

Some fiscal conservatives at the statehouse argue expanding Medicaid could cost the state up to $100 million.  They believe that’s more than the state can afford.

Which is why supporters are taking their fight to the voters, hoping to put pressure on lawmakers that way.

“We really do need Kansans to step up and say they think it is important, and they realize how vital it is to every Kansan,” Rogers said.

Jimmy is just happy to see the state’s leaders fighting for expansion.

“For me it just seems unfathomable not to have that access. God I’m so happy that we’re pushing for that again,” Jimmy said.  “There’s people that’s trying, that’s honest and true, that want to work, and keep working.  It doesn’t really cost that much in the overall of things.”