By Mike Shields
KHI News Service
TOPEKA, April 23 Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Monday vetoed a proviso in the so-called mega-budget bill which would have required that any affiliation between University of Kansas Medical Center and St. Luke"s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. also be approved by the University of Kansas Hospital.
The University of Kansas Hospital and St. Luke"s are competitors. And opponents of the proviso, including officials at KU Medical Center, said it would have been an inappropriate requirement, threatening advancement of a plan by Kansas City business and foundation leaders to promote the city as a national bioscience hub.
But backers of the proviso expressed disappointment with the governor"s action and the chairman of the University of Kansas Hospital Authority said he hoped she and legislative leaders would keep an eye on the ongoing affiliation negotiations.
"We hope today's decision does not disrupt the momentum toward an agreement," said Dr. George Farha, of Wichita, the authority board"s chairman. "Both the hospital and the medical center have devoted and will continue to devote long hours to find the "win-win" solution for the new affiliations. We desire that the governor and legislative leaders remain engaged in the process to support finding the solution where no one is harmed under this affiliation concept."
The proviso was put in the $12.3 billion spending bill at the insistence of the House after drawn-out negotiations with the Senate, which initially opposed it. House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls later said the budget bill could not have passed the House without it because of widespread concern among members that the affiliation negotiations had too little oversight from the Kansas Board of Regents.
Neufeld said House members worried the affiliation would bring economic harm to the University of Kansas Hospital, which was all but broke in 1998 when the hospital authority was created but has since been restored to financial health. They also said they feared terms that could diminish programs aimed at training Kansas doctors.
"Kansas lawmakers are elected to make sure good public policy is enacted and that includes protecting the state"s assets," Neufeld said in a prepared statement. "We felt the Kansas Board of Regents was negligent in not taking care of business. There was virtually no oversight on medical education concerns. We all want KUMC to be a great
research institution. But we also need to pay attention to the educational component."
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he thought the governor"s veto was "probably a good idea." It seems unlikely, given the proviso"s history, that two-thirds of the Senate would vote for an override. It wasn"t immediately clear if an effort to undo the veto would be attempted in the House.
"That will be decided later in the week," said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Neufeld"s spokesperson.
The governor"s veto message, in part, read:
"The proposed affiliation is narrow in scope, focused solely on research and education. It is also a key part of the bid for a nationally-designated cancer center. These reasons are likely why the KU Hospital Authority has already unanimously approved the set of principles that would guide such an affiliation.
"The proposed affiliation also will not harm KU"s relationship with health providers elsewhere in Kansas. KU"s School of Medicine is already affiliated with the two major teaching hospitals in Wichita and this valuable relationship will continue, ensuring people throughout our state will have access to skilled health professionals.
While I understand the concerns of the proponents of the restrictions contained in this proviso, there is already a more than sufficient level of oversight provided by current law. Any affiliation would have to be approved by the Board of Regents, for example, and I do not believe we should return to the past pattern of micromanagement that is proposed in this proviso."
"The governor"s action today restores fairness to the ongoing affiliation discussions," said Amy Jordan Wooden, a spokesperson for KU Medical Center.
In an earlier interview with KHI News, Jordan Wooden said it made no sense to believe that KU Medical Center would strike a deal with St. Luke"s that would harm University of Kansas Hospital. She said the proviso was "unnecessary and inappropriate."
"We share a brand with the University Hospital, a campus," she said. "Our faculty are their physicians. So, it would be inherently against our self interest to do something that would harm them. The Legislature indicating (members of the university hospital authority) somehow have veto authority over our ability to make decisions about educating and training resident (physicians) is inappropriate."
-Mike Shields is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 785-233-5443, ext. 123.
By Mike Shields