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.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

Several Kansans are scheduled to meet Tuesday with federal officials and counterparts from across the country to discuss issues related to the privatization of state Medicaid programs.

Stormont Vail Health of Topeka is closing two regional clinics because of financial pressures created by recent cuts in Medicaid reimbursements and the decision by state leaders not to expand the health care program.

Stormont will close Cotton O’Neil clinics in Lyndon and Alma, according to a news release issued Thursday. The Lyndon clinic will close Dec. 31. The clinic in Alma will close Jan. 31, 2017.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Former Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says members of Congress should set aside partisan differences and fix problems with the Affordable Care Act.

Failing to do so, she warns, could hasten consideration of a single-payer system.

Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015

The uninsured rates in Kansas and Missouri continue to drop.

But they’re declining faster in states that have expanded Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.

New data out Tuesday from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Kansas’ uninsured rate dropped to 9.1 percent in 2015, down from 10.2 percent the year before and 12.3 percent in 2013.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Kansas general election ballot is now set.

Officials in the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office late last week cleared the last hurdle to certifying the roster of candidates for the Nov. 8 election by granting presidential candidate Jill Stein’s request to change the person listed on the ballot as her vice presidential running mate.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

A large section of what used to be Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kansas, has been torn down in the year since it closed.

On a hot August day, a bulldozer is prepping the lot where it once stood for construction of a new city garage.

Andy Taylor, the editor of the weekly Montgomery County Chronicle, says many residents of the community of about 10,000 still aren’t sure exactly what happened. But he says they believe city and state officials could and should have done more to save the hospital.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The director of one of the state’s largest community mental health centers says the head of the agency that oversees the behavioral health system appears to be making an effort to repair damaged relations with providers.

But he says Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck has his work cut out for him.

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Facing increasing criticism from health care providers about recent cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates, Gov. Sam Brownback said that he will attempt to restore the cuts by increasing a tax that hospitals pay.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Brownback said he was forced to order a 4 percent cut in provider reimbursement rates in May after efforts to negotiate an increase in the surcharge failed.

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The effort to expand Medicaid in Kansas has been stuck in the political mud for the better part of three years.

Not anymore.

The results of last week’s primary election may have given expansion advocates the traction they need to overcome opposition from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative conservatives who thus far have blocked debate on the issue.

A series of victories by moderate Republicans over conservative incumbents and challengers for open seats has fundamentally changed the legislative landscape.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Concerns stem from reports of possible tampering in 2014 election

Kansas doesn’t have a reputation for corruption like Chicago where political bosses stuffed ballot boxes and sometimes raised the dead to alter the outcome of elections, or like Florida, home of the infamous hanging chad from Bush v. Gore.

But concerns about tampering appear to on the rise, at least among Kansas Democrats, because of unusual voting patterns in the 2014 elections and persistent reports about the vulnerability of electronic voting machines.

KU Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation

The director of a University of Kansas research center that recently lost the contract for its main body of work is open to resuming negotiations with state officials.

Rick Goscha, director of the KU Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation, said he continues to receive emails and phone calls from mental health providers across the state who want to see the center and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services work through their differences so that a longstanding training and evaluation program operated by the center can continue.

What appears at first blush to be little more than a contract dispute between a state agency and a University of Kansas research center is actually much more than that.

The state’s failure to renew a contract with the KU Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation is another assault on the state's mental health system, according to the directors of several community mental health centers.

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Kansas community mental health centers are sending a distress signal to state policymakers.

The association that represents the state’s 26 community mental health centers issued a statement Wednesday expressing “strong concerns” about the $30 million in funding cuts that it says its members have suffered in the past 12 months.

“The community mental health centers have taken one devastating hit after another over the last year,” said Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas Inc.

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The Kansas Hospital Association is urging federal officials to stop Gov. Sam Brownback from implementing $56.4 million in Medicaid cuts set to take effect today.

Brownback ordered the cuts in May to cover shortfalls in the fiscal year 2017 budget approved by the Legislature. The hospital association is asking the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to immediately intervene to stop the cuts, which include a 4 percent reduction in provider payments.

Susie Fagan / KHI

Supporters of Medicaid expansion are kicking off a campaign to mobilize Kansas voters on the issue. Federal tax rules prohibit the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthy Kansas from engaging in direct political activity, so the group is mounting a vigorous educational campaign through a series of community meetings across the state. 

Rebecca Lyn Phillips, of Topeka, has schizophrenia and writes a blog about the challenges of living with the disorder. She says the prospect of step therapy is 'terrifying' to many people with severe and persistent mental illnesses.
Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Although every state has now adopted some form of “step therapy” to control prescription drug costs, patient advocacy groups in Kansas remain deeply distrustful of the policy scheduled to take effect July 1.

Also known as “fail first,” the policy requires providers participating in KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to start patients on less expensive drugs before moving them to more expensive alternatives if medically necessary.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

The stage is set for what many believe could be a pivotal 2016 election season in Kansas.

With campaigns for all 165 seats in the Legislature, the opportunity for change is reflected in the roster of candidates certified by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach after Wednesday’s filing deadline.

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Kansas health care providers will urge federal officials to reject Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed Medicaid cuts and may challenge them in court.

The recently announced cuts would reduce state expenditures for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, by $56.3 million and trigger a loss of approximately $72.3 million in federal funds. Combined, the managed care organizations that administer $3 billion KanCare program and the health care and service providers they have contracts with would be forced to absorb more than $128 million in cuts.

Conservative Republican Sen. Forrest Knox faces voters in Gridley, Kansas.
Jim McLean / KHI News Service

The 2016 election could be a tough one for some Kansas lawmakers hoping to return to the Statehouse.

Polls, editorials and reader comments on news websites indicate that voters are paying attention to what’s happening in Topeka, and many don’t like what they’re seeing.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Local food advocates say a bill approved by Kansas lawmakers that restricts the authority of cities, counties and school districts to regulate junk food no longer constitutes a threat to their efforts to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

They were plenty concerned in March when the House passed House Bill 2595.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

A coalition of health care and religious groups is asking Gov. Sam Brownback to convene a conference on gun violence.

“In the immediate aftermath of the tragic attack at Excel Industries in Hesston, you declined questions about gun policy issues because you understandably felt the timing was not appropriate,” reads the first sentence of the request submitted earlier this week. “We the undersigned inferred that you do believe, however, a time and place for such a conversation exists. We think that time should be soon.”

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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.