Jim McLean

Reporter and Editor, Heartland Health Monitor

Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KHI News Service, a partner in the the Heartland Health Monitor team. HHM is a reporting collaboration among KCUR, KHI News Service in Topeka, Kan., KCPT television in Kansas City, Mo.,  and Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, Kan.

McLean oversees the KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute. Before joining KHI, McLean was news director and Statehouse bureau chief for Kansas Public Radio and a managing editor for the Topeka Capital-Journal. McLean has received awards for journalistic excellence from the Kansas Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Committees in the Kansas House and Senate have introduced Medicaid expansion bills modeled after a plan implemented last year in Indiana.

The identical measures, drafted by the Kansas Hospital Association, would provide coverage to approximately 150,000 low-income but non-disabled adults by making them eligible for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Tom Bell, president and chief executive of KHA, said the proposal was written with input from Kansas lawmakers, who he said wanted something patterned after Indiana's "consumer-driven plan." 

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Officials from Lawrence Memorial Hospital returned Friday to the Statehouse armed with details about ongoing problems they’re having with the companies that manage KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Heartland Health Monitor

For the third consecutive year, Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing to use money generated by a federal law that he opposes to help balance the state budget.

Brownback, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, is seeking to use federal funding authorized by the law to help close a projected $190 million gap in the fiscal year 2017 state budget.

Specifically, the governor is proposing to use $25.5 million in federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to free up state general fund dollars so that they can be used to bridge the gap.

KHI News Service

A key member of Gov. Sam Brownback’s new rural health working group says he hopes the initiative is a serious effort to address problems facing rural providers, not an attempt to divert attention from a renewed push to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Republican Rep. Jim Kelly represents Independence, the southeast Kansas community that recently lost its only hospital due to budget problems exacerbated by federal reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates and the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback didn’t specifically mention Medicaid expansion in his State of the State speech Tuesday night to a joint session of the Legislature.

But he made it clear that he remains opposed to expanding eligibility to cover more than 150,000 low-income adults, many of whom are uninsured.

Seeming to acknowledge that the closure of Mercy Hospital in the southeast Kansas community of Independence had increased support for expansion, Brownback said “Obamacare” was the main reason for its financial struggles and those of other rural hospitals.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

A tentative plan to save Kansas government more than $2 billion over five years relies heavily on proposed changes to the state employee health plan and Medicaid.

The report, written by the New York-based consulting firm of Alvarez and Marsal under a $2.6 million contract with the state, includes 105 recommendations for “achieving major cost savings.”

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

A Lawrence businesswoman has become something of a poster child for the Affordable Care Act.

Meg Heriford, owner of the Ladybird Diner, didn’t seek the spotlight but has been thrust into the role by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 

Sebelius, who also served two terms as Kansas governor, still has a home in the state as well as one in Washington, D.C.

File photo / Heartland Health Monitor

A legislative oversight committee has approved a controversial set of draft recommendations aimed at reducing the cost of drugs provided to Kansas Medicaid recipients.

The joint committee that oversees the state’s privatized Medicaid program known as KanCare this week tentatively approved recommendations that direct the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to develop policies aimed at slowing a steady increase in the $3 billion program’s pharmacy costs.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

State officials have not decided whether to seek federal recertification of the Osawatomie State Hospital for Kansans with mental illness.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified the hospital earlier this month because of the state’s failure to address security and safety issues cited by federal inspectors, who concluded the sexual assault of a hospital worker by a patient in October was due in part to lax security.

Decertification is expected to cost the hospital approximately $1 million a month in Medicare reimbursements and other federal payments.

KHI News Service

The chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents says he doesn’t anticipate substantial changes in state gun laws ahead of a deadline for allowing the concealed carry of handguns on university campuses.

Shane Bangerter, a Dodge City attorney appointed to the board in 2013 by Gov. Sam Brownback, said the Kansas law allowing concealed carry in public places passed by large majorities in 2013. He doesn’t expect lawmakers to revisit the issue in the upcoming session despite growing calls for them to do so in the wake of a recent spate of mass shootings in Colorado, Oregon and California.

Kansas Hospital Association

Expanding Kansas’ Medicaid program would generate enough offsetting savings to more than cover the cost of insurance for another 150,000 low-income Kansans, according to an analysis released Tuesday by six health foundations.

The analysis done by Manatt Health Solutions, a national health care consulting firm, shows that expanding Medicaid would lower state costs in several areas by enough to cover the annual $53 million cost of expansion with money to spare.

Kansas Department for Children and Families

The man who oversees the foster care program in Kansas is retiring, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families has confirmed.

Michael Myers, a former Topeka construction executive who has worked in several positions in the child welfare agency under Gov. Sam Brownback, will retire at the end of December.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore named Myers director of prevention and protection services in December 2014. He replaced Brian Dempsey, who abruptly left the agency along with Kathe Decker, former deputy director for family services.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The arrest of a Topeka couple on child abuse charges has raised new questions about a custody battle that some say illustrates a pattern of discrimination against gay Kansans seeking to adopt children.

The 2014 custody case pitted a lesbian couple from Wichita, Lisa and Tesa Hines, against Jonathan and Allison Schumm of Topeka for custody of the Hineses’ foster child, Isabella, who had been in their care since she was 5 days old.

Kansas Legislature

Two Kansas lawmakers who lost their health committee assignments because they support Medicaid expansion say the purge has given the issue more momentum.

Interviewed over the weekend for KCUR’s “Statehouse Blend” podcast, Republican House members Susan Concannon, from Beloit, and Don Hill, from Emporia, said Speaker Ray Merrick’s decision to remove them from the Health and Human Services Committee was a mistake if his goal was to shut down discussion on the expansion issue.

Add the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce to the list of Kansas organizations that support expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.

Pushed by influential hospital members Via Christi Health and Wesley Medical Center, the chamber’s board voted Thursday to add expansion to its list of policy priorities for the 2016 legislative session, said Jason Watkins, the organization’s lobbyist.

Kansas Legislature

Three Republicans will not be returning to the House Health and Human Services Committee next year.

The reason: Their support for Medicaid expansion.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a conservative Republican from Stilwell, has removed Rep. Susan Concannon of Beloit, Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills and Rep. Don Hill of Emporia from the panel and given them new assignments. All three are moderate Republicans. 

www.healthcare.gov

Groups working to boost health insurance enrollment in Kansas are concerned their efforts could be undermined by the last-minute departure of one of the state’s largest insurers.

Coventry Health Care of Kansas Inc. and Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. — both subsidiaries of Aetna — abruptly decided to stop offering policies to Kansas consumers in the federal marketplace. The decision, made two weeks before the start of the open enrollment period, surprised state insurance regulators.

www.kslegislature.org

Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King is taking issue with Governor Sam Brownback’s reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion.

Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s deputy communications director, outlined those reasons in an Oct. 6 email to supporters. Referring to expansion as a “masquerading component of Obamacare, Willoughby said the governor believes it would “morally reprehensible” for the state provide health coverage to low-income Kansans “who choose not to work” before providing support services to all of the disabled Kansans now on waiting lists.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Lawrence Memorial Hospital is forcefully denying fraud allegations made in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee.

The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in May 2014 by former emergency room nurse Megen Duffy and unsealed this summer. It charged that the hospital defrauded the federal government by submitting falsified Medicare and Medicaid claims.

In its response last week, the hospital charged that Duffy’s lawsuit and her failure to disclose it violated the terms of a settlement it reached with her after she was fired.

www.healthcare.gov

A major provider of health insurance in Kansas is pulling out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Two companies under the same corporate umbrella — Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. and Coventry Health Care of Kansas Inc. — are withdrawing from the marketplace just two weeks before the Nov. 1 start of the next open enrollment period.

Rohan Hutchings, a Coventry spokesperson, said company officials made the decision after reviewing a range of business factors, including the company’s competitive position in the 17 states in which it offers marketplace plans.

Blue Zones LLC

Some of the healthiest and happiest people in the world live in "Blue Zones," according to researcher and best-selling author Dan Buettner.

In Greece, Japan, Costa Rica and Sardinia, people in certain communities share a common set of behaviors that help them live longer than others on the planet, Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones Project, said in a telephone interview.

Mercy Hospital Independence

Note: This story was updated at 12:37 p.m. to include a link to the Republican talking points memo.

The Medicaid expansion debate in Kansas is heating up.

Big time.

The pending closure of Mercy Hospital in the southeast Kansas community of Independence appears to be the catalyst.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

One of the top Republicans in the Kansas Senate says it’s time to fix the causes of the state’s ongoing budget problems.

During an appearance on the KCUR podcast Statehouse Blend, Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said recurring budget shortfalls have convinced him that the income tax cuts the Legislature passed in 2012 aren’t working.

Iowa Healthcare Collaborative

Roughly 1,000 Kansas doctors soon will be participating in a massive nationwide initiative aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of the health care system.

The Kansas doctors will be part of a six-state transformation project managed by the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative, a nonprofit organization formed in 2004 by doctors and hospitals in the state.

Dr. Tom Evans, the CEO of the Iowa collaborative, said each of the participating states will be free to focus on its own improvement strategy.

Abigail Wilson / KMUW

Once upon a time Kansas was a national leader in public health. Credit largely goes to Dr. Samuel Crumbine, who early in the 20th century created and led what is now the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

He convinced Kansans to stop spitting on sidewalks. And he pushed state lawmakers to pass food purity laws and to ban the public drinking cup. 

But times have changed.

Kansas’ decision to not expand Medicaid is putting health care providers in jeopardy, the head of the state’s largest health system said Wednesday.

Jeff Korsmo, CEO of Wichita-based Via Christi Health, issued a statement calling on Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders to drop their opposition to expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Mercy Hospital Independence

The scheduled closure of the only hospital in the southeast Kansas community of Independence could create new urgency around the Medicaid expansion debate.

Advocates of expanding the Kansas Medicaid program — known as KanCare — say the additional federal money it would generate would help stabilize a growing number of struggling hospitals in the state and might have helped save Mercy Hospital Independence.

Both Kansas and Missouri are underperforming when it comes to reducing the number of uninsured within their borders.

From 2013 to 2014, all 50 states recorded statistically significant reductions in their uninsured rates, mostly because of the implementation of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But most states saw bigger reductions than those posted in Kansas and Missouri.

The number of Kansans maintaining health coverage through healthcare.gov, the federal online marketplace, has declined since spring.

As of the end of June, 84,872 Kansans were enrolled in Affordable Care Act policies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s down 0.7 percent from the nearly 85,490 enrolled at the end of March but higher than the 57,000 enrolled in the spring of 2014.

In Missouri, enrollment decreased to 212,256 in June from 219,953 in March, a decline of 3.5 percent.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 1 to include the response of the CEO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

A former emergency room nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital has filed a federal “whistleblower” lawsuit alleging that the hospital falsified patient records to obtain higher Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. on behalf of Megen Duffy alleges that top hospital officials knew about the fraud, which began in 2007, and threatened to fire employees who objected.

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