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KC Checkup is a profile series featuring leaders in the Kansas City area. Each month, health reporter Alex Smith talks with health care professionals about how Kansas City fares on health and what we need to improve.

KC Checkup: Five Questions For Jim Heeter

Alex Smith

Jim Heeter is President and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. His four years in the role have given him a front-row seat to watch the growth of Kansas City's heath care industry, as well as how health reform is affecting Kansas City business overall.

He answered five questions as part of our monthly series, KC Checkup.

There have been a lot of big changes in health care and a lot of big reforms in the past few years, and a lot of employers and employees have been concerned about the Affordable Care Act and what it would mean for business and jobs.  How is the Affordable Care Act affecting businesses so far in Kansas City?

“The honest answer is that it’s a little too early to tell. The jury’s still very much out because we’re on the very front edge of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“I think there are a couple of realities. One is that the Affordable Care Act is the law. It’s not going away. It is the new health care system for America. The impact on most businesses has not been a dire one, by any means. I think the impact on certain small businesses is potentially going to be significant.

“What you’ve seen, I think, as the federal government has rolled out the Affordable Care Act is a realization that there have to be some practical adjustments to the Affordable Care Act as it moves forward, either through legislation or the regulatory phase.

“I suspect that, as with other major innovations or changes in the American health care system in the last 50 years, I suspect that this one will be absorbed, and that we will continue to have the highest-quality health care in the world, and in the process, we actually might be able to reign in our costs a little bit, too.”

The Chamber has supported Medicaid expansion, but already this year, both states have more or less rejected expansion. I wonder if the Chamber will continue to push for that.

“The Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has been fully supportive of what’s sometimes referred to as ‘Medicaid expansion,’ both in Missouri and Kansas. We think there are two really importance reasons to do that.

“One of them is its just good business. For states that are already strapped for budgetary reasons, it only makes sense to take [advantage of] the very significant federal matching funds that would be available if these states opt in to the Medicaid system.

“The second reason that we’re strongly for it is because that we believe for the health and well-being of our Kansas City community - but for all of Kansas and all of Missouri – we think it’s really important that, as a larger community, we take care of everyone, particularly as something as important as health care. And this provides a way to make sure the most economically-challenged among us have access to good and affordable health care.

“The Chamber has been four square a proponent of Medicaid expansion in both Kansas and Missouri from the beginning, and we will continue to be so.”

In the Fall, voter were pretty firm in rejecting supporting translational medicine with tax money. Some of the campaigning portrayed that tax as being kind of a money grab by hospitals. I wonder, does that vote say something about the way the public views hospitals or the health industry?

“No, I don’t think it does at all. I think the vote in November had everything to do with the specific proposal that was offered, and I think that the voter rejected that proposal very emphatically.   

“And I also – and I think this is very important – I don’t think it reflects at all on the notion that translational medicine, which is one of the Chamber’s Big Five Initiatives, is a bad idea. In fact, throughout that campaign, it came across that everybody thought translational medicine like translational medicine was a very good idea.”

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the state line affects businesses in both states. I wonder, how do you think it affects health?

“With respect to health care, the state line actually disappears. People in Missouri side think nothing whatsoever of crossing the state line to go to a hospital in Kansas or a physician group in Kansas, and visa versa. That tends to be how businesses think. Businesses operate that way; Businesses operate without regard really to the state line."

You and the mayor, a couple of years ago, participating in a weight loss challenge. I wonder if there are any important lessons that you have taken away from that experience.

“Well, the most important lesson that I took away is that I won. And the second important lesson is – as the mayor would readily acknowledge – he still owes me a dinner! [laughs]”

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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