Planned Parenthood Foe To Head Kansas Health Agency; Lawmaker Named Top Medical Officer

Jan 3, 2018

Darian Dernovish will become interim head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Jan. 8.
Credit KDHE

A lawyer who spearheaded Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to block Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood will take charge of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment next week. 

Darian Dernovish will become interim head of the agency on Jan. 8, Brownback’s office said Wednesday. He will replace Susan Mosier, who has held the job since December 2014. 

Dernovish has been a KDHE attorney since 2015, serving as the agency’s chief litigator in federal and state court. In that capacity he advanced the administration’s arguments to stop reimbursing Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services. That included health exams and cancer screenings for low-income Kansans. 

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked the state from halting funding in July 2016, but the case is on appeal. Dernovish was the chief municipal court judge in the small northeast Kansas community of Silver Lake before joining KDHE. 

Brownback said Dernovish’s leadership and experience equipped him to head the agency that oversees KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. 

Brownback is in his final year in office and awaiting confirmation to a job in the Trump administration. If and when the U.S. Senate votes to approves his nomination as ambassador for religious freedom, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would take over as governor. 

Colyer, a plastic surgeon seeking the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, has been preparing to step into the top job since President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July.

On Wednesday, as he has in recent months, Colyer weighed in on another key personnel decision, This time it was the appointment of Republican Rep. Greg Lakin as KDHE’s chief medical officer. 

Lakin, a doctor who guides treatment at a substance abuse rehabilitation center in Wichita, led the effort to pass legislation in the 2017 session allowing emergency-responders to administer without prescription a drug proven effective in reversing opioid overdoses. 

He also helped lead the opposition to Medicaid expansion, rejecting arguments advanced by proponents that expansion would provide coverage to tens of thousands of low-income, uninsured adults while helping struggling rural hospitals. 

During the Medicaid expansion debate, Lakin argued other factors were at play. 

“All these small-town hospitals – they’re trying to survive on an antiquated medical model,” he said. 

The Wichita Eagle is reporting that Lakin will resign from the Legislature on Monday. 

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.