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.

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. 

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.

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