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.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Supporters of expanding Medicaid in Kansas are finally getting an opportunity to make their case to lawmakers.

Republican legislative leaders opposed to expansion have blocked hearings on the issue for two years. They agreed to allow hearings this year only after supporters in the Kansas House threatened to force an immediate vote on the floor.

The state of Kansas and four nonprofit organizations are seeking federal approval to conduct an experiment that they hope will boost participation in a summer meals program that now is serving only a fraction of eligible children.

Led by the Kansas State Department of Education, the coalition is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to temporarily waive some rules so that it can conduct a demonstration project to feed needy children in rural parts of the state when school is out for the summer.

Kansas lawmakers are preparing to vote on a bill that would further tighten the rules for the state’s two main public assistance programs.

The measure, which the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee endorsed on Wednesday, writes into state law several recent administrative changes made as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s welfare to work initiative.

KHI News Service photo

News that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has softened his position on Medicaid expansion wasn’t exactly racing through the Statehouse on Thursday.

But it certainly had some legislators buzzing.

In remarks Wednesday to conservative lawmakers in Missouri, Brownback said if the Kansas Legislature presented him with a budget-neutral expansion bill, he would likely sign it, according to a report in the Missouri Times.

Bills that would further tighten eligibility for public assistance programs will be among the first that Kansas lawmakers consider this week when they return to the Capitol from a short mid-session break.

The bills — House Bill 2381 — and Senate Bill 256 ­— would write into state law several controversial administrative changes made in recent years as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to move people from welfare to work.

More than 300,000 consumers in Kansas and Missouri have a stake in the case argued Wednesday in the U.S. Supreme Court over a provision in the Affordable Care Act.

The vast majority of people who purchased Affordable Care Act coverage in both states qualified for federal tax credits. But they could lose those credits if the court rules that only consumers using state-based marketplaces are entitled to them.

The odds that the Kansas Legislature will pass a Medicaid expansion bill this session remain long.

But they improved Thursday, however slightly, when conservative Republican leaders agreed to allow a hearing on expansion to avoid an immediate vote on the House floor.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, was attempting to amend his Medicaid expansion proposal into an unrelated bill. Uncertain how a vote might turn out, House leaders dropped their opposition to a hearing in exchange for Ward withdrawing his amendment.

Legislation to allow Kansas dental hygienists with advanced training to provide a broader range of services isn’t likely to survive approaching deadlines that restrict the number of bills lawmakers can consider during the remainder of their session.

Because they are non-budget bills that haven’t advanced in either legislative chamber, the bills authorizing the licensing of registered dental practitioners (RDPs) likely will be set aside for the remainder of the session.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The chairman of a Kansas House committee holding three Medicaid expansion bills says he has no current plans to have hearings on any of the proposals.

“At this time I haven’t scheduled anything,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “Will I schedule something? I can’t say right now. But right now there is nothing scheduled.”

Jane Stevens / Creative Commons-Flickr

Obamacare enrollment grew by nearly 70 percent in both Kansas and Missouri during the most recent sign-up period, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of Kansans enrolled in plans offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace increased to 96,226 from 57,013. Missouri enrollment jumped to 253,969 from 152,335.

The new totals include those who purchased coverage for the first time as well as those who switched plans or re-enrolled in the coverage they chose during the first sign-up period.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius didn’t mince words when asked about the direction of Kansas politics during an event Thursday night at the Dole Institute of Politics.

Making one of her first Kansas public appearances since stepping down in June as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sebelius called the re-election of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback “a low point” in the state’s political history.

Now there are three.

Medicaid expansion bills, that is.

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with legislators and members of Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, the Kansas Hospital Association has introduced its expansion bill.

Rep. Don Hill, a Republican from Emporia, requested its introduction in the House Appropriations Committee.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas hospitals are leading the push for Medicaid expansion.

But they’re not the only providers for which expansion is a critical financial issue. It’s also a priority for the safety net clinics that exist to provide free and reduced-cost care to low-income Kansans.

File photo

 

It’s likely that the records of some Kansas Medicaid recipients and Missouri Blue Cross and Blue Shield policyholders were compromised by a cyberattack on the Anthem health insurance company.

The breach was discovered last week but news of it wasn’t made public until Wednesday.

Via Christi Health

Kansas’ largest health insurer and the state’s largest health care provider are forming an accountable care organization to lower health care costs.

After nearly a year of negotiations, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas and Wichita-based Via Christi Health have finalized an agreement aimed at changing the way care is provided to approximately 20,000 Kansans covered by BCBS policies.

Kansas’ worsening budget problems are making it harder to generate a legislative discussion about expanding Medicaid.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Groups representing nurses and doctors met several times over the summer and fall but couldn’t reach a compromise on legislation to allow nurses with advanced training to practice on their own.

The failed negotiations threw the dispute back into the laps of Kansas lawmakers, who don’t appear eager to settle it.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

A group of Kansas hospital leaders is doing what Gov. Sam Brownback has so far declined to do: negotiate with federal officials on Medicaid expansion.

A delegation of hospital executives recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and outline an expansion proposal they are developing for Brownback and Kansas lawmakers to consider this session. 

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Advocates for allowing dental hygienists with advanced training to perform a broader range of procedures are now in their fifth year of trying to convince legislators to approve the necessary changes in state law.

Wearing bright yellow and black scarves, they rallied Wednesday morning and then headed for meetings with legislators to press their case for expanding access to services in a state where 95 of 105 counties have a shortage of dental providers .

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

 

A coalition of health organizations is supporting Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s call for a big increase in the state’s cigarette tax.

Brownback is proposing to raise the tax by $1.50 per pack, increasing it from 79 cents to $2.29. The governor wants to use the approximately $81 million in additional revenue to close a gaping hole in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Several red-state governors have dropped their opposition to Medicaid expansion in recent months and are pursuing ways to use federal dollars to fund their own more conservative plans.

Michael Cannon / Flickr -- Creative Commons

 

A Kansas City-based nonprofit organization says a recent poll shows widespread support for exempting some foods from the Kansas sales tax.

Ashley Jones-Wisner, state policy manager for KC Healthy Kids, says the survey conducted for the Kansas Health Foundation showed that 86.6 percent of Kansans supported exempting fruits and vegetables from the state sales tax.

The Wichita-based foundation helps to fund KC Healthy Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing obesity among children.

Consumers in Kansas and Missouri are among those who could be most affected if the U.S. Supreme Court eliminates federal subsidies in states that didn’t set up their own health insurance marketplaces.

The court announced on Monday that it will hear arguments in the case — King v. Burwell — on March 4, 2015. 

At issue is whether the Affordable Care Act authorizes federal subsidies only in state-operated marketplaces and not in the federal marketplace being used by consumers in Kansas, Missouri and up to 35 other states.

KC Healthy Kids

 

Led by KC Healthy Kids, a nonprofit organization supported in part by the Kansas Health Foundation, a coalition is being formed to guide a legislative effort to exempt food from the state sales tax.

“Cutting the sales tax on food will make it more affordable for Kansans to eat healthier,” says Ashley Jones-Wisner, state policy manager for KC Healthy Kids.

Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan.

 

A multimillion-dollar plan to transform downtown Kansas City, Kan., into a national model is one step closer to reality.

The Unified Government Board of Commissioners last week unanimously approved a new master development plan designed to help improve the health of Kansas City and other Wyandotte County residents by providing a state-of-the-art community center, more green space in which to exercise and access to healthy foods at a 30,000- to 35,000-square-foot urban grocery store.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

 

The Unified Government’s commission chambers were jam-packed on Thursday night.

It wasn’t a controversy over a multi-million bond issue that brought people out. It wasn’t even the final step in the approval process for the city’s “healthy campus” downtown redevelopment plan.

It was a proposed change in the way the city deals with feral cats, stray dogs and pit bulls.

The newly re-elected speaker of the Kansas House reiterated on Monday that he would rather deal with the state’s budget problems by cutting spending than by revisiting the tax cuts that are shrinking state revenues.

Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, was overwhelmingly elected to a second term as speaker, defeating Rep. Virgil Peck of Tyro, 80-16.

Republicans now hold a 97- to 28-seat majority in the House.

The Kansas Hospital Association on Thursday continued its campaign for Medicaid expansion by reminding policymakers how much the state is losing by not claiming federal dollars to cover more low-income adults.

Republican members of a joint legislative committee say there’s no need to launch a state investigation into allegations that lobbyists connected to Gov. Sam Brownback engaged in “pay to play” deals involving KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and member of the KanCare Oversight Committee, on Tuesday urged members to recommend the formation of an investigative committee in a report they’re preparing for legislative leaders.

State officials will need to find an additional $40 million to meet rising KanCare costs in the current budget year, according to caseload estimates compiled by the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department.

KanCare is the name of the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Also, an anticipated increase in the number of children in the foster care system will require an additional $10.2 million in state funding in the current budget year, which ends June 30.

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