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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Health care PACs backing Medicaid expansion supporters

Political action committees no longer spreading money among incumbents only

By | November 04, 2016

Health care PACs backing Medicaid expansion supporters
Political action committees tied to health care groups in Kansas generally give to the campaigns of legislative incumbents. This year some are focusing more on the candidate's stance on Medicaid expansion.

Kansas health care organizations are opening their checkbooks to back legislative candidates who support Medicaid expansion.

The Kansas Hospital Association is the biggest player. Its political action committee has contributed more than $112,000 to legislative candidates this year - $38,551 in the primary and $73,692 in the general, according to reports filed this week.

In past elections KHA, like many organizations, spread its contributions fairly evenly, backing incumbents of both parties regardless of their positions on issues. But it abandoned that strategy this year by giving mainly to candidates who publicly support expansion even if that meant backing challengers over longtime incumbents.

“We went through and looked at the races that we thought were important to our members and our issues and supported what we considered the health care-friendly candidates,” said Tom Bell, KHA president and CEO, after several moderate Republican challengers supported by the hospital PAC defeated conservative incumbents in the Aug. 2 primary.

Photo by KHI News Service Tom Bell, president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association, said the hospital association's political action committee is backing "health care-friendly" candidates.

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Hospitals continued that strategy in the general election cycle, backing Democrat Vicki Hiatt in her bid to unseat Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, a conservative Republican from Shawnee who spearheaded opposition to expansion as the former chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. It is also supporting challengers in several other key races, including:

  • Democratic Rep. Jerry Henry over conservative Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle in the 1st Senate District, which covers parts of seven counties in northeast Kansas and includes Atchison.
  • Democrat Lynn Grant over Republican Sen. Jake LaTurner in the 13th Senate District in southeast Kansas, which includes Pittsburg and Columbus.
  • Democrat Bill Hutton over Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald in the 5th Senate District, which includes parts of Lansing, Leavenworth and Kansas City, Kan.
  • Democrat Monica Murnan over Republican Rep. Charles Smith in the 3rd House District, which includes Pittsburg.
  • Democrat Tim Hodge over Republican Rep. Marc Rhoades in the 72nd House District in south-central Kansas, which includes Newton.
  • Democrat Cindy Holscher over Republican Rep. Amanda Grosserode in the 16th House District of Johnson County, which covers parts of the cities of Overland Park and Lenexa.
  • Democrat Debbie Deere over Republican Rep. John Bradford in the 40th House District, which includes parts of Lansing and Leavenworth.
  • Democrat Stan Reeser over Republican Rep. Leslie Osterman in the 97th House District, which covers part of Wichita.

The hospital association has been the biggest proponent of expanding eligibility for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, contending that the additional federal money it would bring to the state is critical to the survival of hospitals struggling to deal with cuts in Medicare reimbursements that Congress intended to be offset by increased Medicaid payments. To date, the decision by Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders to reject expansion has cost the state more than $1.5 billion in Medicaid funding, according to a running calculation on the KHA website.

Brownback and legislative opponents of expansion have said they are concerned about the federal government’s ability to meet its obligation to cover no less than 90 percent of expansion costs. In addition, they have said they are opposed to extending health care benefits to poor but “able bodied” adults until Kansans with disabilities are receiving all of the support services to which they are entitled. Currently, thousands are on waiting lists for those services.

A PAC funded by mental health providers is also backing candidates who support expansion. It has contributed more than $22,000 since the first of the year, $15,770 of that in the most recent reporting period, July 22 to Oct. 27.

Leaders of community mental health centers across the state have said they need the additional federal funds expansion would generate to offset the more than $30 million in state budget cuts they’ve absorbed in the past year.

“Medicaid expansion would be the single biggest boon to the mental health system,” said Rick Cagan, director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Fifty percent of individuals – adults and kids – with serious mental health conditions are not in treatment and certainly lack of insurance is one of the reasons why.”

Expansion advocates have said they believe this year’s election results will give them the votes they need to pass an expansion plan in the 2017 session. And they’re hoping that once that becomes apparent, Brownback will work with them to craft a plan that he also can support.