Jim McLean

Reporter and Editor, Kansas News Service

Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KCUR 89.3. He is the managing director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KCUR and other public media stations across Kansas. 

Jim was previously news director and Statehouse bureau chief for Kansas Public Radio and a managing editor for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He has received awards for journalistic excellence from the Kansas Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

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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.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents says he doesn’t anticipate substantial changes in state gun laws ahead of a deadline for allowing the concealed carry of handguns on university campuses.

Shane Bangerter, a Dodge City attorney appointed to the board in 2013 by Gov. Sam Brownback, said the Kansas law allowing concealed carry in public places passed by large majorities in 2013. He doesn’t expect lawmakers to revisit the issue in the upcoming session despite growing calls for them to do so in the wake of a recent spate of mass shootings in Colorado, Oregon and California.

Kansas Hospital Association

Expanding Kansas’ Medicaid program would generate enough offsetting savings to more than cover the cost of insurance for another 150,000 low-income Kansans, according to an analysis released Tuesday by six health foundations.

The analysis done by Manatt Health Solutions, a national health care consulting firm, shows that expanding Medicaid would lower state costs in several areas by enough to cover the annual $53 million cost of expansion with money to spare.

Kansas Department for Children and Families

The man who oversees the foster care program in Kansas is retiring, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families has confirmed.

Michael Myers, a former Topeka construction executive who has worked in several positions in the child welfare agency under Gov. Sam Brownback, will retire at the end of December.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore named Myers director of prevention and protection services in December 2014. He replaced Brian Dempsey, who abruptly left the agency along with Kathe Decker, former deputy director for family services.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The arrest of a Topeka couple on child abuse charges has raised new questions about a custody battle that some say illustrates a pattern of discrimination against gay Kansans seeking to adopt children.

The 2014 custody case pitted a lesbian couple from Wichita, Lisa and Tesa Hines, against Jonathan and Allison Schumm of Topeka for custody of the Hineses’ foster child, Isabella, who had been in their care since she was 5 days old.

Kansas Legislature

Two Kansas lawmakers who lost their health committee assignments because they support Medicaid expansion say the purge has given the issue more momentum.

Interviewed over the weekend for KCUR’s “Statehouse Blend” podcast, Republican House members Susan Concannon, from Beloit, and Don Hill, from Emporia, said Speaker Ray Merrick’s decision to remove them from the Health and Human Services Committee was a mistake if his goal was to shut down discussion on the expansion issue.

Add the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce to the list of Kansas organizations that support expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.

Pushed by influential hospital members Via Christi Health and Wesley Medical Center, the chamber’s board voted Thursday to add expansion to its list of policy priorities for the 2016 legislative session, said Jason Watkins, the organization’s lobbyist.

Kansas Legislature

Three Republicans will not be returning to the House Health and Human Services Committee next year.

The reason: Their support for Medicaid expansion.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a conservative Republican from Stilwell, has removed Rep. Susan Concannon of Beloit, Rep. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills and Rep. Don Hill of Emporia from the panel and given them new assignments. All three are moderate Republicans. 

www.healthcare.gov

Groups working to boost health insurance enrollment in Kansas are concerned their efforts could be undermined by the last-minute departure of one of the state’s largest insurers.

Coventry Health Care of Kansas Inc. and Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. — both subsidiaries of Aetna — abruptly decided to stop offering policies to Kansas consumers in the federal marketplace. The decision, made two weeks before the start of the open enrollment period, surprised state insurance regulators.

www.kslegislature.org

Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King is taking issue with Governor Sam Brownback’s reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion.

Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s deputy communications director, outlined those reasons in an Oct. 6 email to supporters. Referring to expansion as a “masquerading component of Obamacare, Willoughby said the governor believes it would “morally reprehensible” for the state provide health coverage to low-income Kansans “who choose not to work” before providing support services to all of the disabled Kansans now on waiting lists.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Lawrence Memorial Hospital is forcefully denying fraud allegations made in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee.

The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in May 2014 by former emergency room nurse Megen Duffy and unsealed this summer. It charged that the hospital defrauded the federal government by submitting falsified Medicare and Medicaid claims.

In its response last week, the hospital charged that Duffy’s lawsuit and her failure to disclose it violated the terms of a settlement it reached with her after she was fired.

www.healthcare.gov

A major provider of health insurance in Kansas is pulling out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Two companies under the same corporate umbrella — Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. and Coventry Health Care of Kansas Inc. — are withdrawing from the marketplace just two weeks before the Nov. 1 start of the next open enrollment period.

Rohan Hutchings, a Coventry spokesperson, said company officials made the decision after reviewing a range of business factors, including the company’s competitive position in the 17 states in which it offers marketplace plans.

Blue Zones LLC

Some of the healthiest and happiest people in the world live in "Blue Zones," according to researcher and best-selling author Dan Buettner.

In Greece, Japan, Costa Rica and Sardinia, people in certain communities share a common set of behaviors that help them live longer than others on the planet, Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones Project, said in a telephone interview.

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.

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