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.

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.

Premiums for Kansas health insurance plans offered in the federal marketplace won’t increase as much as originally proposed, state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said Tuesday.

In May, Kansas insurance companies requested rate increases of up to 39 percent for individual market policies to be sold through the healthcare.gov marketplace during the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31, 2016.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to divert federal funding away from a health insurance program is drawing sharp criticism from children’s advocates.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, says the governor is shortchanging Kansas families who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

Michael Cannon / Flickr--Creative Commons

A group pushing for elimination of the sales tax on groceries in Kansas is touting a new study.

The Wichita State University study shows that even before it was raised last month from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent, the statewide sales tax was costing rural grocers an average of about $18,000 a year in lost sales.

The study was paid for by KC Healthy Kids, a nonprofit organization pushing to make Kansas the 37th state to eliminate its sales tax on groceries.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration will not follow through on plans to limit welfare recipients to cash withdrawals of $25 per day.

Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said Tuesday that federal officials objected to the limit, saying that it would prevent needy families from having “adequate access to their cash assistance.”

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Editor's note: This is the second of two stories looking at Medicaid expansion in Missouri and Kansas. Today's story looks at the failure to expand Medicaid in Kansas. Wednesdays story looked at the failure to expand Medicaid in Missouri. Tonight, Thursday, at 7:25 p.m., KCPT Channel 19 will air a video tied to the stories. 

  The Kansas Hospital Association and other groups urging Kansas lawmakers and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to expand Medicaid coverage to more poor adults have little to show for their three years of lobbying on the issue.

Courtesy photo / U.S. Department of Justice

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is urging members of Congress to ratify a controversial health compact that would give Kansas and eight other states control over Medicare and other federal health care programs within their borders.

State tax receipts for June totaled $22.5 million less than expected, the Kansas Department of Revenue reported Tuesday.

Both individual income tax and sales tax receipts failed to meet projections.

Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan tried to put the numbers in a positive light, saying that overall tax receipts were $69.9 million higher than the previous year and “were less than 1 percent below estimates” for the current budget year.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act preserves federal tax subsidies that nearly 270,000 consumers in Kansas and Missouri used to help them purchase health insurance.

If the decision handed down Thursday had gone the other way, those consumers, many of whom were previously uninsured, might have been forced to drop their coverage.

RELATED: High Court Upholds Health Law Subsidies 

Kansas already had the ninth-most regressive tax system in the nation, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The tax increase signed last week by Gov. Sam Brownback to balance the budget and end the longest legislative session in state history will make the system less fair to low- and middle-income Kansans, said Matt Gardner, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The last thing Rep. Pete DeGraaf needed last week was more stress in his life.

But only a day after a doctor confirmed what DeGraaf had long suspected — that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease — he was back at the Capitol for the final stress-filled stretch of the longest legislative session in Kansas history.

Asked why during an interview in his small Statehouse office with his wife, Karen, at his side, DeGraaf’s answer was simple.

“I enjoy being a legislator,” he said.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The legislator leading a faction of Kansas House members pushing to reinstate taxes on business owners exempted by the 2012 tax cut law has given up the battle.

Rep. Mark Hutton, a conservative Republican businessman from Wichita, said Wednesday that a veto threat from Gov. Sam Brownback and other considerations meant that continuing the fight would make it more likely that lawmakers would go home without balancing the budget, forcing Brownback to make across-the-board spending cuts to erase a projected deficit of roughly $400 million.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Legislators locked in increasingly tense discussions about how to balance the budget and end the longest legislative session in Kansas history said there is no longer any serious talk about expanding Medicaid eligibility this year.

“Given all the time we’ve wasted, it is incredibly disappointing that we couldn’t find the time to deal with this issue,” said Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and the Legislature’s most vocal advocate of expansion.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

The Kansas House could end the longest legislative session in state history Monday by approving a tax plan passed Sunday by the Senate.

The tax plan would generate about $471 million for the budget year that begins July 1, enough to cover a projected deficit and provide a $73 million ending-balance cushion.

“I would hope that we could pass this with a strong vote, strong enough to send a message to the House that says, ‘This is the answer to finish our work this year,’” said Les Donovan, chairman of the Senate tax committee.

Tax conference committees will go back to the negotiating table Friday after the House resoundingly rejected a plan that suspended Gov. Sam Brownback’s “glide path to zero” income tax but did not substantially roll back a business tax exemption that was part of a 2012 tax bill Brownback signed.

The bill that made it to the House floor on Day 105 of the traditionally 90-day session relied largely on sales tax increases for the $406 million in new tax revenue needed to finish closing an almost $800 million structural deficit in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Frustrated by their inability to muster more than a handful of votes for any tax plan, Kansas Republican legislative leaders are asking rank-and-file members the “What will it take to get out of here?” question.

They’re getting a variety of answers as the session, on its 103rd day, inches closer to record territory as the longest in state history. In 2002, legislators met for 107 days.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has what amounts to a running feud going with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He says the agency is dragging its feet implementing a new law called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 that’s designed to help veterans in rural areas get the care they need.

But Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary, says Moran’s claims are baseless.

KHI News Service

The chairman of the Senate committee working on a plan to address the projected budget deficit in Kansas is confident that a tobacco tax increase will be a part of the final package.

However, public health advocates are concerned that the increase won’t end up being large enough to significantly lower smoking rates and reduce expenditures on smoking-related illnesses. They continue to favor a proposal that Gov. Sam Brownback announced at the beginning of the session to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack.

Mercy Hospital, Independence

At the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, Kansas hospital administrators signaled their willingness to talk about increasing a state assessment on their revenues to fund Medicaid expansion.

They anticipated that the state’s deteriorating budget situation would make it impossible for Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders to consider expansion without a way to pay for the state’s share of the costs.

And they anticipated that even with funding options, Medicaid expansion was a long shot to pass.

Supporters say they still hope to force floor votes on an expansion bill, although Brownback and legislative leaders remain opposed to it.

But it’s clear that hospital officials didn’t anticipate the turn of events that has put them on the defensive in the final weeks of the session.

Brownback and key lawmakers are now talking about raising the provider assessment. But they see it as a way to help balance the budget rather than fund a Medicaid expansion plan.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Sherri Calderwood’s Obamacare story isn’t unique.

It’s probably similar to those that could be told by many of the nearly 100,000 Kansans who have so far purchased coverage in the Affordable Care Act marketplace known as healthcare.gov.

Calderwood looked into signing up for an Obamacare plan during the first enrollment period but concluded she and her husband couldn’t afford it. 

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

States that opted to use the federal health insurance marketplace instead of establishing one of their own can’t restrict the ability of certified navigators to help consumers, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely affirms an earlier ruling by a federal district court that blocked implementation of a Missouri law.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor


About 100 people rallied Wednesday within earshot of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s office to demand the repeal of income tax cuts they say are crippling the state.

The Rev Up Kansas coalition staged the event to call attention to the state’s ongoing budget problems, which organizers said are the result of tax cuts that Brownback championed in the mistaken belief that they would jump-start the Kansas economy.