- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Feb. 25

Kansas must do better to deliver care to poor seniors

Elderly Kansans who are so poor as to be eligible for Medicaid already face innumerable challenges. Now, The Star reports, changes the state has made to its Medicaid application and renewal process have only added another brick to their load.

The changes have created a virtual maze for destitute seniors seeking medical help. As The Star’s Andy Marso reported, Kansas in 2015 moved to a new computer system for applying for Medicaid, or KanCare as it’s called in the state. Then it made another switch that involved eliminating regional offices that once processed applications in favor of a centralized “KanCare Clearinghouse” in Topeka.

The state contracted with a company called Maximus to staff the Clearinghouse.

Since then, a strange thing has happened. In a state with an aging population, the number of seniors that KanCare covers for in-home nursing help has actually declined. So has the number of Kansans covered for nursing home beds.

Officials point out that the situation makes no sense, and they’re right. The logical culprit here is the byzantine application process.

Dan Goodman, director of the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging, said it well: “Some seniors are really having a tough time getting onto Medicaid,” he said. “They get frustrated, are in poor or declining health, become defeated by the process and give up.”

Even the state admits to a serious problem, acknowledging through a spokeswoman that “shortcomings” in the Clearinghouse account have contributed to the decrease in seniors on Medicaid.

That’s simply unacceptable, given that the residents we’re talking about rank as among the most vulnerable in the state.

Change is needed and needed soon. The man to lead it is Gov. Jeff Colyer, the architect of the state’s push to privatize Medicaid via contracts with three private health care companies. The move has generated sharp criticism, and Colyer and former Gov. Sam Brownback last month halted plans for a revised program, known in Topeka as KanCare 2.0. One big concern was that lawmakers were still pointing to a myriad of problems with the original KanCare program.

“We believe there is still work to do to stabilize KanCare 1.0 and that there is no certain path forward for KanCare 2.0 at this time,” GOP Senate leaders stated at the time.

A plastic surgeon, Colyer is well positioned to oversee needed changes in the Medicaid application process. Give his young administration credit: New leaders in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which oversees the Clearinghouse, are pushing Maximus hard to improve. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the state should severe its ties with the company altogether.

Another option is to levy substantial fines on Maximus if its performance doesn’t improve. Jon Hamdorf, the state’s Medicaid director, is considering that option.

Restoring local eligibility offices to help seniors navigate this complex system also would be a solid step forward. Caring for our most vulnerable citizens is a top responsibility of any government. Kansas has to step it up.


The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 23

Reducing mass shootings can start with a small step

The nine days since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., have brought youth and energy to the debate over gun violence.

Classmates and students of the 17 people who died at Stoneman Douglas High School are brash, angry and unapologetic. They demand change. They’re not going away.

On Friday, they got a breakthrough. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers proposed a minimum age of 21 to buy any gun in Florida, raised from age 18. Here in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts - recipient of $1.58 million in National Rifle Association money over his career - said Thursday he’ll support a similar measure in Congress.

So there has been incremental progress. But there is cause to remain skeptical about structural, long-term change that can reduce gun violence.

Too many times, mass shootings have occurred, and the nation has expressed its outrage. Universal background checks! More complete mental health assessments! Ban semi-automatic weapons!

Then Congress runs out the clock on the outrage. It wins again.

Conservatives in Congress often appear the bad guys in this drama. Many receive high-dollar political donations from the National Rifle Association, appearing to be in the pocket of the nation’s most powerful lobbying group.

But these conservatives, including the six in the Kansas delegation, also represent thousands of law-abiding, gun-owning voters who feel strongly about the right to own firearms provided in the Second Amendment.

This time, though, teenagers who weren’t alive for the Columbine school shooting, who aren’t old enough to remember Sept. 11, and who have grown up with smartphones in their hands, are leading with a voice we haven’t seen in generations.

So let’s say this time can be different. The vocal kids want their turn at outlasting Congress and their state legislatures.

Change won’t come wholesale. AR-15 semi-automatic weapons aren’t going away soon. Remember when bump stocks were a big deal after the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people? A possible ban was all but forgotten until the Florida shooting reminded everyone they were still legal.

Any common-sense approach to reducing the number of mass shootings has to focus on a solution to which most Americans can agree.

Here’s one small, yet important step to get started: It’s time to figure out the “why” of gun violence.

In 1996, an amendment was added to a House spending bill that forbade the Centers for Disease Control from advocating or promoting gun control. The NRA-backed Dickey Amendment passed and had the effect of telling the CDC to stop studying gun violence.

The amendment has been part of spending bills every year since. It’s time for that to end.

Reducing the number of mass shootings must begin somewhere. Congress and its constituents should be able to agree that studying the minds of mass shooters is a logical first step. The CDC is the government’s laboratory, where there should be a non-partisan study on every effect society has on people with mental illness and the propensity for violence.

America has a problem with guns and violence. Comparisons to other countries routinely show startling rates of U.S. gun deaths. A comprehensive look at why a few Americans - mostly men - decide to take lives is a necessary first step to answering the next questions of better background checks, more thorough treatment of mental illness and, yes, what to do about guns that can fire many more rounds than the framers of the Constitution possibly envisioned.

Future generations are watching. They’ll lead if this one doesn’t.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 25

NRA in schools is a bad idea

Credit Kansas lawmakers for having the wisdom to cancel debate on a bill that would push a National Rifle Association gun safety program on Kansas schools.

That debate was to be Thursday on House Bill 2460, which would create a standardized firearm safety program for school districts that choose to teach it. The bill mandates that the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe program developed by the NRA be used for children in first through fifth grades. For grades six through eight, the bill would allow for either the Eddie Eagle program or the Hunter Education in our Schools program offered by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Finally, the bill would offer hunter education for students in grades nine through 12.

“We don’t need to be doing that right now,” said state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican from Overland Park. “It’s much too soon” after last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., killed 17 people.

In canceling debate on the bill, House Speaker Ron Ryckman said a more comprehensive plan is needed, one that could include mental health initiatives.

The NRA gun safety program is three decades old. The organization estimates that 30 million U.S. students have taken such a course. The bill’s advocates said the program teaches young children to avoid guns they see and tell an adult. Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, told The Associated Press he would think schools “would like a class like this to offer,” especially after mass shootings.

But Corbet is naive if he thinks school districts wouldn’t have concerns about opening their elementary school doors to one of the most politically strident groups in the country. The NRA, founded to promote marksmanship and shooting as a sport, has a long history in gun safety and education. But over the last half century the NRA has become an unabashedly political organization. This is the group that made famous the saying “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands” and whose leader, Wayne La Pierre, once referred to federal officials charged with enforcing gun laws as “jack-booted government thugs.”

The NRA is fully engaged in an American culture war that has no middle ground. You’re either with them or you are a target. And the Legislature shouldn’t be in the business of giving activist groups like that access to the state’s elementary school students. Families interested in the NRA’s gun safety program for their children can certainly do so, just not through their public schools.

It was right to postpone debate on House Bill 2460. Hopefully, it won’t be a part of the comprehensive gun safety plan Ryckman hinted is coming.

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