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KanCare Company Raises Campaign Funds For Senate Republicans

One of the three companies that administer KanCare co-hosted a fundraiser Wednesday for Republican members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, opening a new chapter in the state’s move to privatized Medicaid.

The three managed care organizations the state contracted with in 2012 receive nearly all their revenue in Kansas from state and federal tax dollars.

One of the companies, Amerigroup, on Wednesday used some of that revenue to bolster the re-election campaigns of Republicans who control a committee charged with overseeing its performance.

It’s not unusual for medical organizations to contribute to political campaigns. But Amerigroup’s involvement in Wednesday’s event continues a trend of lobbying and politicking by the KanCare companies that has raised the eyebrows of some stakeholders and minority party Democrats.

The three companies have directly donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of sitting legislators since KanCare began and spent more than $7,000 on food and drinks for legislators during the 2015 session.

Most of that money has gone to Republicans who control the Legislature, leading to concerns that it will affect the willingness of some members to hold the companies accountable. Among them, the companies have state contracts worth about $3 billion and serve about 425,000 Kansans.

“It potentially creates a legislative voting bloc that favors a for-profit industry that relies heavily on Kansas tax dollars,” said Sen. David Haley, one of the two Democrats on the health committee who were not invited to the fundraiser.

Committee chairwoman addresses lobbyists

When Wednesday’s event began, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook sat across a table from Amerigroup lobbyist Gary Haulmark in the side room of a downtown Topeka barbecue restaurant.

Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, was flanked by fellow Republican Sen. Mitch Holmes, from St. John, who also is a member of the committee.

Two more Republican members, Sen. Elaine Bowers, from Concordia, and Sen. Jacob LaTurner, from Pittsburg, sat at an adjoining table. After about 20 minutes, Senate President Susan Wagle showed up. Then Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce poked his head in.

About 20 lobbyists attended, representing a variety of clients, some of whom have business before the committee during session.

They took turns going to a buffet table at the far end of the room, loading plates with barbecued meats and side dishes. At the end of the table was a small bowl where they could drop envelopes with campaign donations for the health committee’s seven Republican senators, who will all be up for re-election next year.

The fundraiser was co-hosted by Hein Government Consulting, a lobbying firm that’s well-known in Topeka. Its client list includes several medical groups, as well as Reynolds American Inc., the nation’s second-largest tobacco company. 

Haulmark was a Republican state legislator and deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment before signing on to lobby for Amerigroup.

He and the Hein lobbyists did not address the crowd, but Pilcher-Cook did, giving the lobbyists a 10-minute rundown of the committee’s scope of work and thanking them for attending.

“Here’s to hoping that we have a great session next year as we hear from many of you,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Your presence here today reveals you’re the ones who work hard to get good legislation passed, and you have my utmost appreciation.”

Pilcher-Cook said her committee believes in looking out for the most vulnerable and protecting human life in all its stages, while remembering that “cost is always a factor” in public policy.

She then outlined her vision of limited government, urging those in attendance to “fight against federal government intrusion and control that has actually done real damage to the economy and the family.”

“Government mandates have destroyed that framework, and yet the more government fails the more it wants to coerce more individuals to cater to its demands,” Pilcher-Cook said.

She pointed to “highly controversial” new medical coding and electronic health record requirements as two examples, but was most critical of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Pilcher-Cook decried the 2010 law’s mandate that Americans carry health insurance and said Kansas should continue to resist the Medicaid expansion portion of the law.

Amerigroup, which is owned by Anthem, has supported Medicaid expansion as a company, saying it will “expand health care coverage, reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health care.” 

Haulmark declined to answer questions about the fundraiser, referring them to company spokeswoman Olga Gallardo.

As of Thursday afternoon, Gallardo had not responded to a request for comment.

Analysts’ opinions mixed

State-level political analysts had various opinions about the policymaking pitfalls of fundraisers like Wednesday’s.

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, said the financial relationship between the managed care organizations and legislative leaders contributes to the perception that policymaking tilts in favor of those who can afford to play the game.

“It’s like a continuous circle,” Beatty said. “Those who get keep getting because they’ve gotten already. Those who have the money to lobby can go lobby and then keep getting the money. It’s part of the American system. (But) there are some states that are much stricter on this sort of thing.”

Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University who has worked on political campaigns, said fundraising from deep-pocketed entities is a fact of political life and not necessarily nefarious.

“The common perception that there is a vote-buying quid pro quo just doesn’t happen,” he said.

Rackaway said attempts at campaign reform often have unintended consequences. Setting strict limits on individual contributions, for example, encourages events like Wednesday’s that bring together several potential contributors.

Beatty and Rackaway agreed, though, that news media should be present at such events and have access to detailed campaign finance reports so the public can know who’s involved in the political process.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant in politics,” Rackaway said.

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

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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