Recent Kansas editorials

The Hutchinson News, Dec. 19

KanCare can wait:

Two national groups heavily involved in guiding policy and protecting the rights of the country’s disabled population have recommended that Kansas delay implementation of its KanCare managed health care system for the state’s developmentally disabled population.

The national Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that makes recommendations to the president and Congress, suggested the state wait beyond the anticipated Jan. 1 launch date. In its report, the council stated that:

— There has been an “inadequate review and consideration of stakeholder concerns.”

— The exclusion of intermediate care facility services eliminates one of the most promising sources of program coordination, better outcomes and cost savings.

— KanCare services for long-term service lacks adequate planning, documentation and review of results to identify trouble areas.

— Kansas first should eliminate the “underserved” waiting list, and expansion to include the developmentally disabled only should occur after the state has cleared the list of those waiting for services.

— The state first should resolve payment delays and other reimbursement issues that have been prevalent during the first year of KanCare’s management of Medicaid.

Meanwhile, ACCSES, a national association of disability service providers, said that implementation of KanCare for long-term developmentally disabled services “threatens the ability of the LTSS (long-term service and support) system to maintain access to the services and programs.”

The first year of KanCare hasn’t been as smooth as administration officials had hoped. The program, which turned the state’s roughly 380,000 Medicaid customers over to privately operated health insurance plans, has been plagued with billing, payment and reimbursement concerns. Pharmacists, hospitals, safety net clinics and nursing homes all have lodged complaints about stalled or delayed payments by the insurances companies that are part of KanCare.

And as the case of one Prairie Village man demonstrates, KanCare companies are likely to reduce services that once had been approved by Medicaid. Finn Bullers, who was born with a rare degenerative disease, previously had been approved for 24/7 in-home care by Medicaid – which provided critical care for Bullers, who is in a wheelchair and requires a ventilator to breathe. Under KanCare, however, that care will be reduced to 40 hours a week, a 76-percent reduction in service. Buller, who has been outspoken about his dissatisfaction with KanCare’s decision, said his wife – the family’s primary income earner – won’t be able to work and pick up the additional care duties.

Buller’s doctor told a Kansas City reporter that the KanCare provider didn’t consult her about the decision and that she believes Buller requires the 24-hour care to survive. The state’s top official at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, however, countered that such cases show that some people had been approved for too much care and that the agency is comfortable with Buller’s reduction in service.

Such cases illustrate the pitfalls of privatizing a service originally designed to ensure some measure of well-being, dignity and protection to those with severe or permanent disabilities. It also serves to support the suggestion that, at the least, KanCare’s expansion should be delayed until there are assurances that the developmentally disabled won’t see similar reductions in their lifelong care.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 19

Funding full-day kindergarten an easy sell:

Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to spend $80 million to ensure all Kansas kindergarten students have the opportunity attend a full-day program should be well received by parents and school districts across the state.

Legislators must approve the plan, which Brownback will include in his budget recommendation for the state’s fiscal year 2015, and appropriate the necessary funding, but they, too, should recognize the advantages in the governor’s proposal.

The $80 million Brownback wants to spend would be spread over five years, beginning with $16 million for the 2014-15 school year. The state now pays for half-day kindergarten in public schools.

According to Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner for the Kansas Department of Education, all but about 15 of the state’s 286 school districts offer full-day kindergarten and most of them fund the additional expense with the funding they receive from the state for at-risk students. State funding for full-day kindergarten will free up some money for at-risk programs in those districts.

There are some school districts that charge parents for full-day kindergarten, with the fees range from $270 to $1,350 per semester. Full state funding for kindergarten would reduce the financial load on the parents of those children.

The real beneficiaries, however, will be the children who don’t now have access to full-time kindergarten or whose parents can’t afford the fees for a full school day.

Studies on the subject show children who begin to learn early perform better throughout their school years and are better-equipped to handle challenges when they move from their educational pursuits into the work force.

Brownback, who has emphasized improving young people’s reading skills throughout his time in the governor’s office, says ensuring every public school student has access to full-day kindergarten is a logical next step.

He is right, and legislators should be willing to appropriate the money necessary to get more young students off to a good start on their education.

Kindergarten also helps children learn social skills — how to communicate with others, meet new friends, work in a group setting — in addition to the basic reading and math skills they pick up. It is a very important time in their lives, and they will benefit from the advantages offered by a full school day.


The Kansas City Star, Dec. 21

Finally, progress is made in costly border war:

Missouri Sen. Ryan Silvey has offered a straightforward plan that could be a strong start toward reducing the costly economic development border war between Kansas and Missouri.

Silvey’s bill would prevent Missouri from giving public subsidies to companies for any existing jobs they would poach from the Kansas-side counties of Johnson, Wyandotte, Miami and Douglas.

The bill would be contingent on Kansas not using its incentives to lure companies and their current jobs from Jackson, Clay, Cass and Platte counties in Missouri.

The laws now in effect are pure folly.

In recent years several large businesses have left Kansas City, Mo., for Johnson County, Kan. — and vice versa — and lowered their tax responsibilities in doing so, while simply bringing existing jobs across the state line. As a result, these companies aren’t paying their fair share of taxes. That puts pressure on others that don’t get the tax breaks to come up with enough money to continue providing essential public services.

The bottom line: The incentives have diverted hundreds of millions of public dollars to private companies for few net new jobs in the region.

In an interview Friday, Silvey made it clear that companies creating new jobs when they move from one state to the other could still be eligible for state incentives under his bill. The key should be to consider rewarding new economic activity with taxpayer subsidies, although both states also could be a lot stricter on even those giveaways in the future.

Silvey’s bill should be a high priority for the Missouri General Assembly to act on when it begins meeting in January. It also should get the support of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Locally, the measure has been embraced by leaders of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, who properly have criticized the current situation because it favors the chosen few companies that scoot across the state line.

Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation, an influential proponent of ending the border war because of the financial havoc it causes, called Silvey’s bill a “tremendous step forward.”

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback appears ready to provide much-needed leadership in working toward meeting the reasonable restrictions laid out in Silvey’s bill.

That’s a positive change from a few years when Brownback and others — including the mayors of some large Johnson County cities — downplayed the concerns about “competition” between the states, ignoring the fiscal damages both were suffering.

Today, because of excessive tax cuts in Kansas, the state needs all the revenue it can get to provide basic services. Kansas especially shouldn’t be giving away precious tax dollars through overly aggressive incentive programs.

Brownback is in a perfect position to tell the mayors and others that Kansas can, indeed, compete with Missouri and other states when it comes to luring jobs.

But keeping the status quo is unacceptable because it ratchets up corporate welfare in both states.


The Hays Daily News, Dec. 18

Kansas ranks high in volunteerism:

It’s one thing to tell yourself you live in a great state. Important as that self-assessment is, having statistics to back it up is quite another.

A new report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Kansas fourth in the country in terms of volunteerism. Almost 37 percent of all Kansans donated their time and talent to one worthwhile cause or another in 2012. Only Utah, Minnesota and Idaho had higher rates of participation. Nationally, the average is approximately 25 percent.

“Volunteering is a core American value,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS. “Americans who volunteer enrich our communities and keep our nation strong.”

Kansans know that. Every town and city that dot the landscape of the Sunflower State is blessed with selfless individuals who want to make the world a better place in which to live.

You’ll find them on the membership rolls of service clubs. Or assisting a nonprofit agency to fulfill its mission. You’ll see them fundraising on behalf of those in need — and there is no shortage as the transitioning economy continues to push ever more into poverty status. You’ll see them reading to children, visiting the elderly, and serving on boards of directors.

Who are these volunteers? They come from all walks of life. As a group, parents are the most active, registering a 43.3 percent rate of volunteerism. Self-identified Baby Boomers have a 40.2 percent rate, Gen X’ers are at 39.8 percent, with teenagers close behind at 39.6. Older Kansans offer their unpaid assistance at a 37.3 percent clip, college students at 33.7 percent, and young adults are at 28.9.

No matter which subset of Kansas residents one examines, each one volunteers at a higher rate than the national average of 26.5 percent.

The involvement results in some impressive statistics:

— There were 807,860 volunteers in 2012;

— 82.9 million hours of service were logged;

— Those hours added up to $1.5 billion of service.

While these benefits are relatively easy to measure, the local effects of that collective spirit is priceless. We are better as a state and as a people for the compassion we display.

We would encourage everyone to get involved. The benefits you’ll receive yourself just for volunteering will be as great as your contributions.

Kansas is indeed a great state to live in — and it’s the people who make it so strong. We have the numbers to prove it.

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