WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Kansas Governor Laura Kelly stopped at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita on Thursday to host a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement and mental health leaders.
The topic of discussion was about how expanding Medicaid would improve public safety.
“Right now, Kansans experiencing mental health crises or struggling with addiction frequently end up in emergency rooms or jails because there is nowhere else for them to go. This creates enormous challenges and puts a huge strain on our emergency departments, courts, and law enforcement,” Gov. Kelly said. “That’s not to mention the undue burden on those who have mental illness, and who would otherwise benefit from treatment or other interventions. These people need health care, not handcuffs.”
Kansas jails are required by law to cover the costs of health care for uninsured individuals.
“Two years ago, a bill was introduced to allow for inmates’ Medicaid to be suspended and not turned off. The bill also allowed for more medical services and pharmaceutical payments to be paid on inmate medical bills,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeffery Easter. “If this part of the expansion was to be passed, it would cut down the expenses for local taxpayers.”
Medicaid does not pay for care while people are in jail, but if someone is enrolled, they could get care quicker once they’re released.
“When they leave jail or prison, they’re often going out and going into, if they’re lucky, they’ve got a job but a job that likely doesn’t pay enough or doesn’t provide insurance through the employer And so Medicaid expansion could cover those kinds of folks,” said Gov. Kelly. “The overwhelming amount of money that Sedgwick County taxpayers are spending taking care of medical services, mental health services for those people who are incarcerated in their jails It’s millions and millions of dollars that could be reimbursed through Medicaid expansion if we were able to get it done.”
Gov. Kelly says that expanding Medicaid would improve public safety, leading to fewer arrests and reduced rates of re-arrest.
Local mental health leaders also shared their opinions on the topic:
“Expanding Medicaid will increase access to preventive and early treatment options, which will help patients before they reach crisis,” said the Director of Behavioral Health Services at Ascension Via Christi Abbey Cotter. “It will help to transform Kansas’s mental health and substance abuse treatment model to one that better serves those in most need of services.”
“Medicaid expansion would play an instrumental role in increasing and streamlining the services mental health professionals provide to patients around the state,” said the President and CEO of The Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas Mary Jones. “Even more, the funds that come from expansion would support these clinics and reduce the costs of uncompensated care they often take on.”
Other roundtable participants included:
- Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Kansas Senate District 31)
- Commissioner Ryan Baty, Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners
- Paul Duff, Deputy Chief, Wichita Police Department
- Jared Schechter, Jail Administrator, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office
- Russell Leeds, Assistant County Manager of Public Safety, Code Enforcement, and Emergency Management
- Kevin Lanterman, Director of Emergency Medical Services, Sedgwick County
- Steve Stonehouse, Director, Sedgwick County Department of Corrections
This was Gov. Kelly’s sixth stop on her Governor’s Healthy Workers, Healthy Economy statewide tour.