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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File Photo / Kansas News Service

Advocates of expanding Medicaid in Kansas are trumpeting new poll numbers that show them gaining ground despite what appear to be long odds of success.

The poll, conducted in December just before the start of the 2017 legislative session, indicated that 82 percent of Kansas voters supported expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which commissioned the survey.

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is hoping the federal government can rescue several critical infrastructure projects that the state can no longer afford.

The Brownback administration recently sent what amounts to a wish list to President Donald Trump for inclusion in his planned infrastructure initiative. It includes the following $240 million in highway and bridge projects delayed or abandoned because of the state’s ongoing budget problems:

Patrick McKay / Flickr -- CC

Kansas lawmakers seeking to keep university campuses, hospitals and government buildings off limits to firearms are facing a familiar argument from opponents.

Namely, that such restrictions infringe on the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s a Second Amendment issue,” says Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican. “It’s a right to bear arms issue.”

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The Kansas legislative session is not yet two weeks old, but there are already signs of the change that many voters called for in the recent elections.

New legislative leadership and an aggressive group of newcomers are pushing back against many of Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal, which they say won’t fix structural problems with the state budget.

Message From Voters

From the earliest days of the campaign season it was evident that many voters were frustrated about the “budget mess” in Topeka.

Kansas News Service File

It very well might be too late, but some Kansas lawmakers are moving ahead on a plan to expand KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday to introduce an expansion bill at the request of Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback began a quest to preserve his legacy with Tuesday’s State of the State address.

Facing an immediate budget crisis and a Legislature rendered more oppositional with the ouster of dozens of allies in last year’s elections, Brownback used the 30-minute speech to try to reassure Kansans that the right-wing policy path he has blazed the last six years is worth maintaining.

Kansas News Service

Think twice and don’t be in such a hurry to repeal Obamacare.

That’s the message that an alliance pushing for Medicaid expansion in Kansas is sending to members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

There will be a political shift in the Kansas legislature with the new leaders lawmakers selected Monday. Conservatives will hold on to the very top jobs for 2017, but more moderate Republicans also picked up key positions. There is turnover among some of the Democratic leadership posts too.

All the change reflects gains made by moderate Republicans in the August primaries, and gains by Democrats in November, especially in the House. The move to the center on the Senate side is more subtle, but nonetheless notable.

“Elections have consequences and this election pretty much showed it’s going to be a fairly blended leadership team,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a conservative Republican from Wichita who lost a bid for leadership job.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Medicaid expansion advocates in Kansas say they’ll move forward with legislation despite national election results that signal a repeal of Obamacare.

But they are a lot less optimistic about their chances than they were before last week.

Click here to read about a Kansas City family's growing anxiety about Obamacare's repeal

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

At the end of the balloting today, the complexion of both the Kansas Legislature and the state’s highest court could be radically different.

There’s less suspense about the top of the ticket, at least as far as Kansas goes. Unlike the razor thin margins in some presidential battleground states, polls show Republican Donald Trump well ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the reliably-red Sunflower State.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

New campaign finance reports are calling into question Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s insistence that he’s not involved in an effort to oust several Kansas Supreme Court justices.

Reports filed this week show that Brownback’s Road Map PAC contributed $65,000 to Kansans for Life in September and October, bringing the total since the first of the year to $110,300.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

There is widespread, bipartisan support for eliminating or reducing the sales tax on food among candidates for the Kansas Legislature, according to survey results released Monday by an advocacy organization.

However, when the winners of next week’s election show up at the Statehouse in January, they may again decide the state can’t afford to do without the revenue it generates.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Out on the campaign trail, there are a couple of competing narratives about what’s going on with the Kansas budget.

Both acknowledge that plummeting revenues have delayed road projects, increased the state’s bond debt and forced cuts in higher education, healthcare and safety net programs for poor Kansans.

But that’s where the stories diverge.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats running for the Legislature are blaming the 2012 income tax cuts championed by Governor Sam Brownback for crashing the state budget.

CNN

This year’s presidential race may be one for the history books. But it’s not the contest Kansas voters wanted.

When Republicans caucused in March they overwhelmingly preferred Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over eventual nominee Donald Trump.

Kansas Democrats gave Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders one of his biggest primary victories – a 68 percent to 32 percent drubbing of Hillary Clinton.

Hannah Figgs-Hoard was among a group of Sanders supporters at a Topeka caucus site that literally overwhelmed Clinton’s smaller contingent.

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 89.3 / File

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.

File photo

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.

File photo

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.

File photo

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.

File photo

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.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

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.

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