Projects in the homestretch

October 18, 2013

The second half of October promises to be busier than usual for some of us at KU Medical Center, as several key projects have entered their final stages.

This week we welcomed our first finalist candidate for School of Medicine executive dean, and we look forward to hearing from our next finalist candidate, who will give a presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 4:30 p.m. As you know, the search for an executive dean began in February. I'm grateful to Rick Barohn and the members of the search committee for their months of service. We've ended up with some outstanding candidates.

Next week we will finally welcome site visitors from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) to our campuses in Wichita, Salina and Kansas City. This is another project hundreds of people have been working on for more than a year. Glen Cox and his entire team are well-prepared and eager for the week. You can read more about the accreditation process and find the schedule of events on our LCME website.

We have also been preparing for a visit from as many as 60 state legislators on Oct. 30. As some of you may have read or seen in the news, members of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees are boarding buses next week for a six-day tour of the state's public universities in an effort to learn more about higher education. Our Kansas City campus is the last stop on the tour. In preparation for this visit, legislators asked universities to answer a list of more than 80 detailed questions about our programs, budgets and operations. Teams in Kansas City and Lawrence spent weeks gathering this wealth of information, all of which is now publically available here. I look forward to a lively and informative discussion with state policymakers, since we all share the same goal of improving the state's health, workforce and economy.

In the midst of such intense activity on campus, I'm always happy to get out into the community. On Sept. 26, I was honored to be the featured speaker at the Medical Society of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties' annual recognition dinner at the Overland Park Convention Center. It was a great turnout of our peers in medical practice, as well as local and state legislators, students and residents from KU Medical Center. This year's event recognized legislators and physicians who participated in the Wy-Jo Care Program for the uninsured.

I was grateful that the group gave me a chance to talk about many of our successes, challenges and initiatives. During the Q&A session, I got one of the questions I hear most often, so I thought I would share my answer with all of you.

The question is not without controversy, so I'll put it in as neutral terms as possible: The state of Kansas has not expanded the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) - how does that decision affect KU Medical Center?

The question has political ramifications, given many people's strong feelings about the Affordable Care Act. However, all politics aside, the state's decision does affect our physicians who are providing clinical care and our hospital affiliates. It is a matter of both health and economics.

According to the most recent data, more than 348,974 Kansans were uninsured in 2011, with many others underinsured. Unfortunately, these people face many challenges in finding preventive and routine health care. As a result, they often seek care only when they are most ill, and then seek it through the most expensive method possible - the emergency room. The care they receive is therefore managed though a single emergency visit which has minimal impact on chronic conditions and often results in more visits to the emergency room. We are also the comprehensive providers of care for many life-threatening conditions regardless of ability to pay, such as trauma, cancer and cardiac care. Located in one of the poorest counties in Kansas and honoring our mission to the state results in KU Medical Center and The University of Kansas Hospital managing a disproportionate share of these people in our system.

For example, in 2013, The University of Kansas Hospital provided more than $51 million in uncompensated care. Additionally, The University of Kansas Physicians provided $14.4 million in uncompensated care in 2013, in both clinic and hospital settings. Contrary to what some people believe, neither The University of Kansas Hospital nor The University of Kansas Physicians receives any state funding to manage these patients. Also, the federal dollars provided to disproportionate-care hospitals such as ours are scheduled to go away under the Affordable Care Act, with the assumption an expanded Medicaid program will reduce the number of uninsured people seeking care. As health care revenues decline on all fronts, continuing to absorb these costs solely within our system is not sustainable. The economics do not work in the long run.

Whether to expand Medicaid coverage is obviously a decision for policymakers, not KU Medical Center leaders. But we owe all of our stakeholders straightforward answers. I look forward to providing many more of those answers to visiting legislators later this month.

Last modified: Oct 21, 2013
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