Congressman Ron Estes, Kansas 4th Congressional District, discussed the Affordable Care Act with members of the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce during the congressman's listening tour on Aug. 25.

Affordable health care was a major topic of discussion when 4th Congressional District Rep. Ron Estes paid a visit with members of the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Aug. 25 at the Chamber office during his Listening Tour across the 4th District.

Estes said the ball was definitely in the Senate court for health care legislation but he didn't think they would get a bill passed soon.

Susan Page, CEO at Pratt Regional Medical Center, said Medicare was their biggest payer at the hospital and Congress needs to get health insurance passed not only for the patients sake but for the hospital as well. The hospital is the biggest employer in the county and any change in payments impacts the hospital and its employees.

"It's extremely important. We want it (health bill) passed," Page said.

Chamber Director Kim DeClue said the hospital serves many more people than just in Pratt County. The outreach is a 150 mile radius.

Many of PRMCs patients do come from outside the city and county. Many are out patients that is a big program at PRMC. There are 15 physicians in Pratt with more consulting that come to Pratt on a regular basis, Page said.

Health insurance was also a major of concern. Jack Kennedy, chief nursing officer at PRMC, said with the high cost of deductibles, some buy insurance but can't afford to pay the deductible. The have to make a choice between putting food on the table or health care. Health care and usable health care were not the same thing, Kennedy said.

Estes said Congress was looking at different programs to help the situation.

Local rural resident Jamie Panek, there were $13,000 deductibles for some policies and that was not acceptable. A lot of medical costs get passed down to the insurance holder because they can't afford the deductible.

This is a serious issue, especially for farmers and ranchers, because they don't control the price of their commodity.

"Farmer's can't increase the price of our commodity. We have to "eat" it," Panek said.

And if a family member has to see a doctor that is not covered, then the family has to handle the cost.

Estes said one of the three major insurers in Obama Care (The Affordable Care Act) is Medica and they have capped their coverage to 10,000 customers. That is part of the issue facing Congress as they try to come up with a new health bill.

Estes said the finance committee want's to bring some governors to get their input on the health insurance situation.

Estes is on the Homeland Security Committee that covers from 12 to 15 agencies. A trip is planned for October to visit Amman, Jordan and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to inspect airport security and see their setup. Estes hopes this trip will help make United States airport security better.

The cost of education and paying off students loans continues to be a concern. As a member of the Higher Education sub committee, Estes is concerned about graduates getting a job that pays enough to make a living and pay off student loans or even finding a job in the first place.

He would like to more apprenticeships in more areas to help students be better prepared to get a good paying job.

Area resident Nancy Kerr said community colleges can be the answer to getting a job. She did praise the Kansas Board of Regents for their work on getting credits to transfer from community colleges to four year universities. Although, Estes said, some Regents schools are better than other for transferring credits.

Pratt Community College Board of Trustees vice chair Dwane DeWeese said sometimes it felt like the Regents look at the community colleges as second class institutions and the community colleges had to fight for every dollar. Some technical programs, like the lineman and ag diesel program have students that take one year of courses then leave and that hurts the college accountability numbers so the college is looking at ways to retain students.

Janette Siemens, Circles program coordinator, gave Estes, who was unaware of the program, a description of how the program helps people break out of the circle of poverty. Estes said he wanted more information about the program and get it to more people.

As for the situation in North Korea, Estes said they have a history of making agreements then ignoring the agreement and this went back for three presidents. The situation is serious and China now realizes that if something happens with North Korea, it will impact China financially because they can't afford an economic slowdown on exports.

@GaleR_Tribune