Advocacy & Policy
Sunflower Foundation > 2016 Annual Report > Features > Advocacy & Policy
Uniting Voices For A Healthy Kansas
Father Robert Schremmer, vicar general of the Dodge City Diocese, supports expanding KanCare because it shows compassion to vulnerable people.
Dr. Julie Stewart, who practices family medicine in southeast Kansas, supports expanding KanCare because she witnesses the human cost of being uninsured every day.
Terry Dunn, business executive and officer of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, supports expanding KanCare because it will create thousands of jobs and, without it, employers will pay higher prices for employee insurance.
Marcillene Dover, a full-time education major at Wichita State University, has multiple sclerosis but no health insurance to cover treatment. She is one of 150,000 Kansans who would receive coverage if the state would expand KanCare.
Kansans Overwhelmingly Agree
Each of these Kansans — and thousands more like them — have spoken out in support of KanCare expansion since the federal government made it an option for states in 2012.
They are among the more than 75 percent of Kansans who support expanding KanCare, according to a poll by the Kansas Hospital Association.
Yet, for more than three years, leaders in the Legislature have refused to even discuss expanding KanCare.
Clearly, the voices supporting expansion were not being heard by elected officials.
"When people understand KanCare expansion, what's at stake, where the funding comes from, and who qualifies, the great majority of Kansans support it," said Billie Hall, President and CEO of Sunflower Foundation.
"People are the basis for participatory democracy. But the ‘public’ has been missing from public policymaking on this issue. People matter, and their voices need to be heard. Sunflower Foundation is committed to helping the public shape our state policy to improve the health of Kansans," she said.
Bringing the “Public” into Public Policy
With so much at stake — thousands of working Kansans with no health insurance and a third of the state’s hospitals at risk of closing — the Sunflower Foundation invited leading health and advocacy groups to strategize about how to engage Kansans in this important policy discussion.
In addition, Sunflower reached out to Manatt Health Solutions for help in making the economic case for expansion, as well as the coverage case. The result was a report showing that expansion could be budget-neutral in Kansas, and would likely generate revenue gains. The public release of the report was endorsed by the Kansas Grantmakers in Health (KGIH), which sent a joint letter to members of the Kansas Legislature asking that this important public policy be discussed.
Media across the state increased their coverage, and more voices began to surface about this issue. More and more Kansans were speaking out.
At the same time, Sunflower began convening key health and advocacy groups to explore options for elevating the voices supporting expansion. The result was the creation of a statewide coalition — the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas — a grassroots effort that draws on collective action at the local level to create change at the state level.
Thanks to collaboration by KGIH, the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas became a major initiative of the foundations to expand health care coverage in the state. David Jordan was hired as Executive Director to lead the effort.
"The power you have as a coalition starts with multiple voices coming together and reaching policymakers," said Jordan, who has years of experience in grassroots organizing. "No one person and no one group can do this by themselves. Most often it takes broad coalitions to successfully advocate for policy change to benefit the people."
Educate, Agitate, Organize
The foundation for the Alliance was laid this summer. A website was created — ExpandKanCare.com — serving as a central source of facts and communication to the public and other interested organizations. Key stakeholders were convened to collaborate in unifying organizations already working on their own to support expansion. Social media was used to locate and bring together grassroots supporters. A boots-on-the-ground effort began in the summer of 2016 and a robust network of community leaders and supporters began to develop.
“At the end of the day, grassroots engagement is about building leadership,” said Jordan. “The goal is to develop leaders in communities around the state who will be outspoken advocates on this issue and other issues that can improve the health of Kansans. But it takes time and it takes people willing to speak out and make their voices heard by the governor and by elected officials in the Statehouse.”
What Really Matters in Kansas
As Father Schremmer of Dodge City reminds us, “We are called to be good neighbors — to have compassion and for that compassion to move us to action. Expanding KanCare shows compassion to vulnerable people.”
David Toland, Executive Director of Thrive Allen County, spoke in support of KanCare expansion because of the promise it holds for economic development and sustaining his community, in part, by supporting its hospital.
"Communities survive because they are places people want to live. And to be blunt, people don't want to live in communities that don't have access to a nearby hospital,” Toland said. “Expansion also benefits hard working families. We know that more than two-thirds of those eligible are working or are in working families.”
Dr. Julie Stewart invited the governor and other legislative leaders to spend a day in her clinic and talk to her patients.
“It’s a different environment,” Stewart said. “I think when you have that conversation on a one-on-one level, then the sound bites and the jargon and the ideology — that takes a backseat. And that’s what we need in Kansas right now.”
“There are a lot of working Kansans who fall in the gap that has been caused by lack of KanCare expansion. Change needs to happen.”
Note: As Sunflower issues this Annual Report, the future of the Affordable Care Act is uncertain. Whatever may happen to the law in the coming years, Sunflower will continue to support expanding health coverage to all Kansans.
• • •
Sunflower’s support for the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas is part of the foundation’s Advocacy & Policy work. This program area supports public policies aimed at improving the health of Kansans, and supporting or developing efforts of nonprofit organizations to advocate for such policies on behalf of the populations they serve. Learn more at SunflowerFoundation.org/advocacy.