KHI News Service

Kansas foundations establish health reform grant fund

Fund part of larger effort to ensure consumer interests represented as reform law is implemented

By Jim McLean | May 19, 2011

Five Kansas health foundations have formed a $450,000 fund to help various organizations and government agencies compete for billions of dollars in federal health reform grants.

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the Kansas Health Foundation, the Sunflower Foundation, the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and the REACH Healthcare Foundation all contributed to the fund, which will be administered through the Topeka Community Foundation.

Applications for awards of up to $30,000 will available on the community foundation’s website beginning early next month.

“Our goal in setting up this fund is to ensure that Kansas and its citizens are well positioned to take advantage of federal programs, technical assistance and grants that are becoming available as part of federal implementation of health reform,” said Brenda Sharpe, president and CEO of the REACH Healthcare Foundation. “It is our intent that Kansans receive the full benefit of opportunities related to the law.”

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Sheldon Weisgrau on the fund

The reform law — officially known as the Affordable Care Act — appropriates or authorizes billions of dollars in grants to help providers, service organizations and government agencies to experiment with ways to improve health care and public health services. Money for health workforce training and technical assistance is also available.

Millions received, more available

Since the enactment of the ACA in March of 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded approximately $42.5 million in grants to Kansas organizations and agencies, according to a report on the federal agency’s website that was updated last week.

Sheldon Weisgrau, a former consultant and health care analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, has been hired by the foundations to administer the fund and to represent consumers in state policy discussions about the implementation of the federal reform law. He said millions more dollars are potentially available for Kansas.

“There are 50-plus specific projects or programs identified that are eligible for grant funds, many of them open to states, state agencies, not-for-profits, providers, community organizations and consortiums of all those,” Weisgrau said. “And so, the intent here is to really get seed money out into the communities so that these groups will be in a position to be competitive for the bigger (federal) grants.”

Making sure consumers are heard

In addition, Weisgrau said, the foundations want him to monitor health reform implementation in the state to ensure that the interests of consumers are being represented in discussions now dominated by insurance companies and health care providers.

“The whole point of the Affordable Care Act and of health reform is to make health insurance and health care more available and so it’s ultimately a consumer issue,” Weisgrau said. “My view is that whatever is implemented has to be implemented in a consumer friendly way.”

In his first days on the job, Weisgrau has spent a significant amount of time monitoring the work groups formed by Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger to plan the health insurance purchasing exchange required by the law. The exchange — an online tool that Praeger says will be similar to travel sites like — will be the way in which tens of thousands of Kansans, many of whom are now uninsured, purchase coverage, qualify for federal subsidies or for the expanded Medicaid program.

“The exchange should not be designed to benefit insurers or particular insurance companies. It shouldn’t be designed to benefit providers. It should be designed to benefit consumers. I mean, that’s ultimately the point of it,” Weisgrau said.

A key early decision will be whether the work groups recommend to Praeger that the individual and small group markets continue to be divided, Weisgrau said. Insurance companies may see that as a way to help protect themselves financially, but it could lead to higher premiums for some consumers.

Weisgrau said it would help the discussion if insurance companies would release the results of simulations he assumes they're running to predict the impact of combining or dividing the individual and small group markets.

“Having good data, having that transparency will help us make decisions based on the facts rather than based on perceptions or ideologies or misunderstandings of what this is really all about,” Weisgrau said.

The Kansas Health Institute, which administers the KHI News Service, receives significant funding from the Kansas Health Foundation. KHI's policy arm also has received project funding from the other foundations mentioned in this story.