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.

File photo

An effort to roll back a controversial business tax exemption is among the budget-balancing proposals that lawmakers will take up in the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session.

Several key Republicans, including many self-described conservatives who voted for Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts in 2012, are openly supporting bills to either reduce or eliminate the exemption as legislators return Wednesday to the Statehouse to wrap up the session.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Kansas officials got the bad news they were expecting Wednesday.

After reading the economic tea leaves and noting that state tax collections have been short of expectations in 11 of the past 12 months, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group reduced its revenue projections for this budget year and the next by $228.6 million.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

A handful of university economists and state officials will meet Wednesday behind closed doors in Topeka to revise their estimate of how much tax revenue Kansas will collect over the next year. 

It’s a process the state has used since the late 1970s for budgeting purposes. But a string of missed estimates in recent years has made it controversial.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

The Kansas Statehouse is relatively quiet these days. Only the arrival of the occasional busload of school children disturbs the calm.

That will change when lawmakers return April 27 to face what is expected to be more bad news about the budget.

Legislative leaders are hoping to finish their wrap-up session in a matter of days. But many involved in the process say that could be wishful thinking given a lack of consensus on how to balance the state budget in the face of continuing revenue shortfalls.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A discussion that Kansas officials began last fall with representatives of a Wall Street banking firm about securitizing the state’s tobacco settlement could be resurrected if the state’s budget problems continue to worsen.

Shawn Sullivan, budget director for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, said while a bond deal isn’t under active discussion, it remains a possibility should the state need a quick infusion of cash to balance the budget.

“I’m not going to deny it’s an option,” Sullivan said.

Mercy Hospital Independence

A new organization is forming to strengthen the lobbying effort for Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas will focus on passing an expansion bill in 2017, not in the waning days of the current session, according to Billie Hall, the chief executive of the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation.

In an email sent Wednesday to approximately 2,000 people registered to receive updates from the foundation, Hall urged individuals and organizations from across the state to join the alliance so that it can mount a strong lobbying effort next year.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The Kansas House on Monday tentatively approved a bill that would provide certified nurse midwives with limited authority to establish independent practices.

Supporters hailed it as a breakthrough in the long-running battle between doctors and advanced practice registered nurses seeking authority to practice independently. But certified nurse midwives, who recently split with APRNs to push for their own independent practice legislation, objected to the bill because it would require them to obtain a separate license from the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, the state agency that regulates the practice of medicine.

Creative Commons-Pixabay

Kansas lawmakers are close to finishing their work on a bill they hope will motivate doctors and dentists to provide more charity care.

Though the measure enjoys bipartisan support, its most ardent supporters are Republican legislators who are opposed to Medicaid expansion and need something that shows voters they’re willing to help poor Kansans gain access to health care.

Julien Menichini / Creative Commons-Flickr

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:41 p.m. Friday. 

The Kansas House on Friday approved a bill to prohibit city, county and school district officials from adopting certain types of healthy food policies.

The bill — House Bill 2595 — passed 89-34. It now goes to the Senate. 

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

This story was updated with additional quotes at 11:17 a.m.

Legislative leaders often use their authority over committee assignments and other perks to reward loyalty and punish insubordination.

But rarely are punishments meted out as publicly as they were Tuesday in the Kansas House.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Republican from Stilwell, publicly stripped fellow Republican John Rubin of his chairmanship of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee just minutes before the House adjourned for the day.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A leading child advocate has obtained a document that she says confirms state officials are considering a deal to securitize the state’s tobacco settlement payments.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, raised concerns about a possible securitization deal earlier in the week in testimony to a Senate committee. At the time, she said a reliable source had told her that officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration had discussed bonding future settlement payments in exchange for a one-time cash payment.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Sarah Lockridge thinks hospitals are where you go when you’re sick, not where mothers-to-be should go to bring their babies into the world.

That’s why she decided to have her first baby at a birth center in Kansas City, Kansas, under the care of a certified midwife.

At first, Lockridge says, her family questioned her decision.

“When you say I’m using a midwife, I’m not going to a hospital the first thing that comes into their brain is that you’re going to be in a mud hut in the woods somewhere,” she says.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

Three influential Republican state senators Tuesday introduced a bill to repeal a controversial business tax exemption approved as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 income tax cuts.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said the measure is needed to close a tax “loophole” that is costing “at least $250 million” a year and wreaking havoc with the state budget.

“It continues to make the budget unstable,” Denning said in a news release. “Given the rapid deterioration of the budget, I believe we have the votes to close the loophole and send the bill to the governor.”

Public Opinion Strategies

Poll results released Monday by the Kansas Hospital Association show a majority of Kansans continue to favor expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.

The statewide poll conducted in mid-February found that 62 percent of Kansas voters supported expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to cover approximately 150,000 non-disabled adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,243 for an individual and $33,465 for a family of four in 2015.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

February’s disappointing revenue numbers have Kansas lawmakers once again scrambling to balance the state budget.

The spending blueprints for the remainder of the current fiscal year and fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1, were balanced on paper when lawmakers left for a brief mid-session break, thanks to a series of one-time revenue transfers and some spending reductions.

But both were undone when the Kansas Department of Revenue reported last week that February tax receipts had come in $54 million short of projections.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas’ rejection of Medicaid expansion has cost the state more than $1 billion, according to the association that represents the state’s hospitals.

“This 10-figure sum represents a loss of nearly 11 Kansas taxpayer dollars every second since Jan. 1, 2014 — funds that go to the federal government to be spent in other states for Medicaid expansion,” the Kansas Hospital Association, which keeps a running total of the amount on its website, said in a news release issued Monday.

KHI News Service

Some supporters of Medicaid expansion say that Gov. Sam Brownback’s rural health task force is little more than political cover. They say that in an election year Republican lawmakers opposed to expansion need to be seen as doing something about the financial pressures that forced a hospital in southeast Kansas to close its doors and that are threatening others.

But Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, the person appointed to lead the group, says the governor’s critics have it wrong.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

A legislative hearing Tuesday on a bill to prohibit Kansans under 18 from using commercial tanning beds produced emotional testimony from cancer victims and sharp exchanges between lawmakers and the proposal’s lone opponent.

And it seemed clear by the hearing’s end that the bill had the support of several lawmakers who normally would be troubled by the prospect of regulating private businesses.

Alex O' Toole / Wikimedia -- CC

Amy Holdman has a cautionary tale for Kansas lawmakers.

The 41-year-old mother of two from Overland Park is convinced that her frequent use of tanning beds as a teenager and young adult is the reason she’s had to endure three surgeries in the past year to remove chunks of cancerous skin from both arms.

Doctors had to dig deep to remove melanoma cancer cells from her right forearm in February 2015.

In the months that followed, she underwent dozens of painful biopsies and two more scarring surgeries.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has given lawmakers a budget that balances on paper.

But it remains to be seen whether legislators will agree to the complex formula of spending reductions, budget transfers and administrative changes that Brownback is proposing to erase a projected $436 million shortfall in the budget year that begins July 1.

Lobbyists representing several groups and causes are lining up in opposition to many of the changes.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Several nonprofit organizations that advocate for children, minorities and low-income Kansans are concerned about what they see as a trend toward less open government in Kansas.

Now they’ve joined forces to launch what they’re calling the Open Kansas initiative and to ask legislators to sign a “transparency pledge” to taxpayers. The pledge commits those who sign it to support:

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.

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