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Kansas Health Consumer Coalition Ends Operations

The Kansas Health Consumer Coalition will cease operations this week.

“It’s been a struggle to maintain our funding,” said Carol Ramirez Albott, president of the Topeka-based advocacy group’s governing board. “Things just got to a point where we felt like we couldn’t adequately do the job.”

The board, she said, notified its supporters of the decision late last week.

“We are very sorry about this,” Albott said. “It really leaves a vacuum when it comes to there being an independent voice to advocate for the health care needs of Kansans. We don’t have any state or federal funding, so we haven’t had to worry about stepping on anybody’s toes. We can say what needs to be said.”

The coalition and its executive director, Sean Gatewood, have been active in recent — and as yet unsuccessful — efforts to expand eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program and allow the licensing of mid-level dental practitioners.

The group also has been critical of KanCare, the state’s now-privatized approach to administering the state’s Medicaid program.

“We think there’s a lot of work yet to be done with KanCare,” said Albott, who’s a semi-retired clinical social worker and former director of the Shawnee County Health Department. “We’re not sure that Kansas is doing all that needs to be done when it comes to protecting consumers.”

Founded in 2005, the coalition has relied on grants from regional health foundations, which, in the past 18 months, have been reduced or have not been renewed.

The coalition’s office will close Friday.

“I’m very sorry to hear this,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. “I can tell you, firsthand and in the trenches talking to legislators about issues like Medicaid expansion, that Sean Gatewood and the coalition did great things to help advance the cause in a very difficult situation.”

Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director at Oral Health Kansas, said the coalition was instrumental in building legislative support for creating what’s now known as the Legislature’s Robert G. Bethell Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight.

The coalition also led efforts starting in 2011 to coordinate the work of consumer advocacy groups in Kansas, she said.

“I’m really sad to see them go,” Brunner said.

Contacted Thursday, Gatewood, a former Democrat legislator from Topeka, said he didn’t have any immediate plans other than helping his wife, Terica, care for their son, Koen, who was born June 22. The couple also have a 6-year-old daughter, Kennedy.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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