- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 25

Is KanCare working?:

There may be no turning back on KanCare, the Brownback administration’s privatization of what had been a fiscally unsustainable state-run Medicaid program. But is KanCare itself unsustainable? Legislators need to find out and act accordingly.

Somebody needed to get a handle on Medicaid. The health care system that covers the poorest Kansans and aids those with disabilities was claiming a growing share of the state budget - “eating us alive” was how Gov. Sam Brownback put it in 2012. If it sounded too good to be true that private insurance companies could save $1 billion over five years without cutting provider rates, eligibility or services, the notion of “outcomes-focused, person-centered” care was promising.

With KanCare now having been in place for 21 months, though, surely the transitional bumps should be diminishing. No doubt many are.

The administration’s official reports certainly make it sound that way. “A review of claims submitted from January to July of this year shows that 99.98 percent of clean claims are paid within 30 days of submission” to a KanCare company, Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Sara Belfry recently said.

But the three companies reported losing a total $110 million last year and another $72.6 million in the first half of 2014. For a time in August, the unpaid KanCare claims at the Hanover Hospital in Washington County were $140,000 - more than half of the hospital’s monthly budget, according to the Kansas Health Institute News Service.

Then there is Randall McVey, a Garden City dentist who didn’t hold back in explaining last week why he is no longer a KanCare provider.

“The system is definitely broken. It’s not working,” he told the Garden City Telegram. “It just seems like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

McVey told state officials it would be less expensive to give away his services than to continue to spend so much time trying to get paid by the KanCare companies. (He wasn’t kidding: He said he’s now offering to do free dental work for his former KanCare patients if they’ll volunteer their time to help a cause or neighbor.)

Echoing reports The Eagle has heard from other KanCare providers, the Telegram reported that “frequently, vendors would claim they didn’t receive or couldn’t open attachments on claims, or would subsequently find the attachment, promise to reprocess the claim, and the practice would find out months later the claim was again denied.”

It surely didn’t help McVey that KanCare only reimbursed 30 to 50 percent of actual costs of procedures, according to the dentist.

KanCare has become a campaign issue in the governor’s race, which is appropriate but risks politicizing what should be the nonpartisan goal of properly caring for some of the most vulnerable Kansans.

Lawmakers should not consider KanCare a done deal, and should listen not just to the administration but also to providers and patients.

They also should reconsider their opposition to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would afford KanCare the benefit of many more federal dollars while insuring more Kansans.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 26

Political offices cost money:

Getting elected to a political office isn’t an inexpensive thing these days, although election campaigns in Kansas haven’t traditionally been among the most expensive affairs.

That could be changing, at least for the current election cycle.

The Associated Press reports spending by campaigns and political groups has been about seven times as much as it was for the 2010 elections, and Election Day still is more than a month away.

The Associated Press was reporting on a study by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, which estimated that about $2.2 million has been spent on television ads for statewide offices so far - $314,057 was spent on television advertising during the 2010 elections - with the gubernatorial race accounting for about $2.1 million of the total. The story didn’t specifically mention the Senate race between Republican incumbent Pat Roberts and independent Greg Orman.

Given polls that show the governor’s race - between incumbent Republican Sam Brownback and Democrat Paul Davis - and the Senate race will be close, it isn’t surprising that money is flowing into the state.

As of Sept. 8, the Center for Public Integrity estimated Brownback’s campaign has spent only $306,200 on TV ads and the nonprofit Roadmap Solutions Inc. has spent $86,900. The Kansas Values Institute, a pro-Democrat group, has spent about $306,200 on ads against Brownback while Davis’ campaign has spent about $86,600 for television advertising.

The Center for Public Integrity’s report and The Associated Press’ story noted the significant amounts of money flowing into the race - from outside and inside the state - through sources not a part of any campaign. More will be coming within the next month. There’s no telling now how high the final tally will be, but there’s little doubt the spending will set a new benchmark for Kansas politics.

Kansans shouldn’t ignore the political ads all that money has bought or will buy. Actually, it would be difficult to ignore them given the frequency with which they are appearing on television screens.

Rather, voters should pay attention to what is being said and then check the veracity of the ads themselves - they probably at least touch on an issue of concern. Political ads, by Republican and Democratic forces alike, are designed to sell a point of view or a particular candidate. Facts and truth often take a beating in the process, but there are plenty of sources available to anyone who wants to be well-informed on Election Day.

The responsibility to vote includes a responsibility to be informed.


Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 24

Political theater:

The national political spotlight rarely shines on Kansas as brightly as it does right now.

The state is known for its populist tradition and a certain political independent streak but what’s happening now in the U.S. Senate race has Kansans and political observers across the country shaking their heads.

The featured players in this drama are an incumbent Republican senator, an Independent challenger and a dismissed Democratic candidate. Playing supporting roles have been members of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas secretary of state. The court is playing a non-partisan role, but every other aspect of this highly unusual situation is based on political calculations on all sides and the desire to gain political advantage. The Kansas race is drawing national attention because it may play a role in determining the majority party in the Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican incumbent, has served 16 years in the U.S. House and three terms in the U.S. Senate. In a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932, Roberts probably expected a relatively easy race. On the contrary, he was challenged from the right in a tough primary race, during which questions were raised about his Kansas residency and whether he had spent so much time in Washington, D.C., that he had lost touch with his Kansas constituents.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor narrowly won the Democratic primary, was lagging far behind Roberts in fundraising and seemed like a manageable challenger. Then, along came Greg Orman, a wealthy Johnson County resident running as an Independent. Orman got the attention of Kansans who were fed up with the job that representatives of both parties were doing in Congress - which appears to be a pretty large portion of the electorate.

After the primary, polls showed Roberts garnering under 40 percent support, meaning he might be vulnerable, but not if Orman and Taylor split the rest of the vote. After considering his funding situation and conferring with Democratic leaders, Taylor decided to withdraw from the race. Orman hasn’t acknowledged any role in that decision, but Taylor did meet with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who reportedly asked him to step down to unify support for Orman.

Then, another battle erupted over whether Taylor’s name had to remain on the ballot. While Democrats fought to have the name of their own candidate removed, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a member of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee, fought to keep it on. The court said Taylor’s name should be taken off the ballot and took no stand on whether the Democrats had to name a replacement. With the deadline approaching to send ballots to Kansas voters who live in other countries, Kobach eventually agreed to send ballots without a Democratic candidate for Senate but only with an accompanying disclaimer indicating that ballot may be replaced later.

Are you keeping up?

The good news about this situation is that it certainly should have raised the awareness of Kansas voters about their U.S. Senate race. The bad news, is that all these shenanigans likely are confusing some voters and turning off many others who are more disgusted than ever with the political process.

By any standard, this election season in Kansas is one for the books. Kansas voters have some important choices to make in November. Hopefully, they will be able to sift through the political drama and cast well-considered votes.


The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 26

Fort Riley soldiers back to Iraq:

Fort Riley troops are heading back to Iraq. As their friends and neighbors, we wish them the best and hope for their speedy return. As realists, we hope everyone sees what this deployment means. And as Americans, we hope they get the job done, whatever that job entails.

The U.S. Department of Defense announced Thursday that nearly 500 soldiers from Fort Riley will deploy to the Middle East in late October. The 1st Infantry Division will be the headquarters unit to deploy to Iraq as part of the U.S. battle against the organization called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. (It is alternately called “ISIL.”) The unit’s role, according to official announcements, is to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces to help them go on the offensive against ISIS and conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights. Basically, in our view, this is an effort to re-create the training apparatus that the U.S. dismantled when we pulled out last time.

We’re quite confident in the ability of Fort Riley soldiers to do whatever they’re supposed to do. They’re preparing to be deployed for a year. We certainly hope to see them all back here as soon as possible.

President Obama has said that there will be no ground war against ISIS. But what the announcement of this deployment shows is that, regardless of the type of military conflict our nation enters, there’s always going to be a need for an army. You’re going to have to have boots on the ground. Call them advisers or whatever, but if we’re serious about taking on an enemy force, it’s going to require men and women in fatigues on the ground at some point. To say otherwise is to either be nave or disingenuous.

Fort Riley is invaluable as a training center for those troops. This deployment shows that once again.

But the point here is not simply to make domestic political points. Clearly, ISIS is an enemy determined to cause America harm. This is a complicated international situation, and there’s reason to believe ISIS really wants nothing more than to pick a fight. We’re certain Fort Riley soldiers are as prepared as anybody, and we’re confident they’ll get the job done to the best of their ability.

The big question remaining is exactly what the job requires.

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