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Kansas Gov. Brownback Unveils Plan To Increase State's Doctors

From left: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kansas Farm Bureau CEO Terry Holdren, Gov. Sam Brownback and Overland Park Regional Medical Center CEO Kevin Hicks.
Andy Marso
KCUR 89.3
From left: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kansas Farm Bureau CEO Terry Holdren, Gov. Sam Brownback and Overland Park Regional Medical Center CEO Kevin Hicks.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a two-part plan Friday to bring more doctors to the state and quell health care shortages that he said threaten to kill rural communities.

Brownback, flanked by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a hospital executive and the head of the Kansas Farm Bureau, harkened back to his days growing up in Parker — population 250 — to personalize the push for more rural doctors.

“Essential to every healthy and thriving community is professional medical care,” Brownback said. “The long term sustainability of communities, particularly in our rural areas, depends on citizens access to local health care.”

Brownback proposed that the state put forth $5 million in “seed money” to increase medical residency slots throughout the state.

The hope is to use the state funds to draw down more dollars from the federal government and non-profits and potentially bring in as many as 100 additional medical residents every year starting in 2018.

Colyer said that would be critically important in a state in which 92 of 105 counties are medically underserved.

"The key to this is people who are trained in Kansas stay in Kansas,” Colyer said.

Brownback promised more details on where the cash-strapped state would get the seed money next week when he releases his budget proposal.

Brownback also announced Friday that he’s establishing a task force to lure a private osteopathy school to the state and named Kansas Farm Bureau CEO Terry Holdren to chair it.

Doctors of osteopathic medicine have to meet the same standards of training and care as medical doctors, but generally are more focused on primary care.

Leaders of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, an osteopathic medical school in Kansas City, Mo., released a statement Friday saying they would lend their expertise to the task force.

“We look forward to the opportunity to work with Gov. Brownback, the state of Kansas and colleagues on the task force to explore the feasibility of developing an osteopathic medical school within the state of Kansas,” Marc Hahn, the president and CEO of KCU, said in the statement. 

David Jordan leads a coalition of groups advocating for Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which Brownback opposes.

Jordan applauded Friday’s moves, but said Brownback’s continued resistance to Medicaid expansion hurts the cause of recruiting rural health providers.

He said a hospital administrator in Garden City told him that doctors in that part of the state tend to choose Colorado over Kansas because they can spend more time practicing there, and less time chasing payments or trying to get expenses written off for uninsured patients.

“Medicaid expansion certainly is critical to benefiting these rural communities — the (health care) practices and recruitment of health professionals to rural communities,” Jordan said.

Colyer, a plastic surgeon from Overland Park who also opposes Medicaid expansion, headed a rural health task force last year. He said he plans to unveil recommendations based on that group’s work once the legislative session begins.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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