The news that the state was taking over an area nursing home was shocking. The facts coming out of the court documents were salacious — missing narcotic drugs and tens of thousands in unpaid bills.

It would have been very easy to concentrate on those factoids for headlines. But there was another nugget that should catch attention – and did catch the attention of this newspaper. In an average year, the state takes two or three into receivership. In 2018, that number was more than 20.

That is downright scary. Much of the media coverage glossed that over as they looked at the scandalous missing drugs. Some media called at least some attention to the unpaid bills, and it is those unpaid bills where we find where this story becomes one of statewide concern.

According to LeadingAge Kansas, a statewide association for nonprofit long-term care and aging service providers, this is the result of policy decisions by Kansas lawmakers. Specifically, this is the result in changes to Medicaid.

This is not a new issue. This newspaper has reported on the changes to Medicaid eligibility — namely the process to determine that eligibility — and how they affected nursing homes before. Everything from patients passing away while waiting for a determination (and, if they were taken in by a home, that home now being forced to eat the bill) to homes just not getting paid as everyone waits for a determination of eligibility.

The state outsourced the eligibility determination process about three years go. The result of that, and privatization, has led to long waits. And it has hurt nursing homes. Whether or not the high number of homes being taken over by the state is an anomaly or a trend awaits to be seen. But make no mistake, the number is a direct result of what has happened in Medicaid.

It was what Rep. Tim Hodge (D-North Newton) calls a “disastrous choice” by the legislature.

“This all something I knew would happen. I did not know it would be this bad,” said Rep. Tim Hodge (D-North Newton). “ .. anytime you put a private insurance company in charge of making payments, one of their prime objectives is to keep the money as long as possible. That is the way they make their money. If they can delay payments … then they have made money.”

Homes are stuck with unpaid bills.

This is a serious issue. One that the legislature must take a look at and try and fix.

“These are people that have paid into the system their entire lives. Can we give them their last shred of dignity as they enter life's final days? Apparently not,” Hodge said. “... It has to change.”

We can not agree more. It has to change, and change soon. Nursing homes are valuable to local economies. They provide jobs, they purchase goods. They should be treated as such.

— Kansan Editorial Board