U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) visited McPherson on Wednesday morning to tour the Pfizer plant and learn more about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s impact in Kansas.

“Pfizer invited me to tour. I was excited to return to the plant after the change in ownership because I wanted to thank the new ownership for keeping those jobs in Kansas,” Moran said. “Also, I wanted to get educated in how the Food and Drug Administration works in Kansas, because of my job as chairman of Appropriations Committee that funds them.”

Moran shared his thoughts about healthcare issues affecting residents of McPherson County.

Veteran’s healthcare

“I’m of the view that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is failing our veterans,” Moran said. “There are certainly instances that it does care for our veterans, but more and more, people will tell me about the challenges they or a neighbor has had in getting care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Moran is a member of the VA committee and hopes to improve care through the implementation of the Choice Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in August 2014. The act allows veterans to visit a healthcare provider of his or her choice if the VA facility cannot provide service within 30 days or if the veteran lives more than 40 miles away from a VA facility.

“In my view, seeing a hometown provider can be a significant improvement in how veterans in McPherson and Kansas can get healthcare,” Moran said. “However, it is still a significant challenge for many veterans to use the Choice Act and many healthcare providers have yet to be reimbursed for the services they’ve provided. I hope it becomes viable and is program our veterans want to use. I know about rural communities and veterans and I know my dad would have preferred to have healthcare at home, rather than making a trip to Wichita, so we need to make sure we don’t let the VA off the hook with this.”

Moran explained that if the implementation of the Choice Act is successful, community healthcare providers could benefit.

“Just like our schools need every student, our hospitals need every patient. This is primarily to improve care for veterans but it can also stabilize the healthcare systems in a community,” Moran said. “The side benefit of the Choice Act is that if those veterans are seen at their hometown hospital, that money for the service provides additional revenue and support for that community provider.”

Community Healthcare

Moran said that community hospitals need adequate reimbursement in order to have enough services and technology to hire and retain skilled providers.

“Many [rural hospitals] struggle with attracting physicians to stay and serve patients, so we need more healthcare providers and we need them in places that are rural and underserved,” Moran said. “There’s 127 hospitals in Kansas and I’ve visited each one. [McPherson County is] a unique community to have three community hospitals. In most instances, our smallest communities have hospitals reimbursed as critical-access hospitals. Part of my job is to make certain that designation doesn’t go away and we continue to work for cost-based reimbursement for rural hospitals.”

Medicaid

Moran said that part of the reason why many Kansas hospitals are struggling is because the smaller providers have a hard time of meeting Medicaid regulations. KanCare is the program through which the state administers Medicaid, which is healthcare for residents with low incomes.

“All the regulations put in place don’t do much to improve quality of care, but drive up cost and are challenging for small hospitals to navigate,” Moran said. “We need to make certain that Medicare covers the cost of the service — you have the issue of reimbursement and educating and training a workforce, as well as the regulations that are expensive and don’t make sense.”

Moran said that the Affordable Care Act has provided more insurance availability to Kansas residents, yet budget cuts put too much strain on covering those already served by the state.

“It’s no longer an issue of just expanding the program but it’s also an issue of covering the Medicaid costs we have now,” Moran said.

Moran explained that improved healthcare can draw new residents to communities.

“My interest in this topic comes from my desire to see communities grow and healthcare is important because young families and senior citizens won’t join if there is not adequate healthcare,” Moran said. “If you want a future for your community, it’s my view that you need to take care of your healthcare delivery system.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @DerksenSentinel.