Sen. Moran hears from constituents

July 28, 2016

Nearing the end of 105 meetings, one in each county in Kansas, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran stopped in Parsons Thursday to visit with constituents during a meeting at Labette Health.

Before taking questions or suggestions, Moran spoke about the Department of Veterans Affairs and its failure in providing proper care for veterans’ health.

Moran said he graduated high school in 1972 as the Vietnam War was coming to an end. Seeing how veterans were treated upon their return, he said he vowed to do everything he could in his lifetime to honor and respect those who served.

First as a member of the Veterans Committee while in the House, and now the Senate, Moran said they are working to get better care, treatment and benefits for those who served.

“It’s certainly what they are entitled to, and in my view many veterans are slipping through the cracks,” Moran said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs is failing them. If you want evidence that big government doesn’t work well, the VA is an awfully good example of that unfortunately.”

Moran said they are asking veterans, or people on behalf of veterans, to contact them regarding the VA not working for them.

“At the moment we are mostly focused on the health care side of things,” Moran said.

Like others, seeing a need for veterans in areas where there was no hospital, he helped encourage and push the VA to open outpatient clinics, such as the one now located in Parsons. Many communities still have no outpatient clinic, though.

“The law now says if you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or if it takes the VA more than 30 days to provide the service, you are entitled to have that service at home if you choose,” Moran said. “So your hometown doctor, home hospital, home town optometrist will see you and VA is required to reimburse that provider at Medicare rates. A problem is, in my view, is the VA doesn’t really like this law. They prefer things the way they have been, and therefore trying to rattle their cages to get this to work has been a real challenge.”

Veterans are saying they qualify, but when they call the toll-free number, they are given the run-around. As well, Moran said they have been told many health care providers have not been reimbursed.

The VA tells U.S. Congress that many veterans do not like the program and don’t want it.

“Common sense tells me that just can’t be the case, and if there is that attitude, it’s because they tried it, and it was a mess to get any of the services you are entitled to,” Moran said.

An example he gave was of a veteran living in Plainville, within 40 miles of Hays, where there was an outpatient clinic. The veteran called Moran to explain that he needed a colonoscopy. He said he called the VA  requesting to have it done in his hometown hospital with his hometown physician.

“The answer was, ‘No, you cannot, because you live within 40 miles of Hays and there is an outpatient clinic there now.’ To which he responded, truthfully, ‘But they told me they don’t do colonoscopies at your clinic.’ And the VA says, ‘That doesn’t matter. There is still a facility within 40 miles.’ So it’s that kind of stuff we are trying to unravel and get rid of so the VA doesn’t have the opportunity to come back to Congress and say, ‘Let us keep our money.’”

While Parsons has a large community hospital that is financially solid, Moran said that is not always true in many other communities across Kansas.

“There’s 127 hospitals in our state, and I’ve visited each and every one of them. And many of them are hanging on by a thread. Just as our schools need every student, our hospitals need every patient. So when we send people away, such as to Wichita to the VA, we are reducing the strength of our own hometown healthcare delivery system,” Moran said. “So in the process of taking good care of veterans at home, we can also strengthen the system by which the rest of us get health care, keeping those dollars here.”

Wage mandates

Sophia Zetmeir, owner of Grandview Products, told Moran her company recently received paperwork from the Department of Labor concerning companies’ exempt and non-exempt status regarding salaried employees and overtime.

“They said if they don’t make up to almost 48,000, then I have to pay them overtime to be non-exempt, so in other words, I have to pay my supervisory people and put them on a time clock,” Zetmeir said. “I can’t understand. …Why is the government telling me what I have to pay my people?’”

Zetmeir said people wonder why businesses are going to China and saying how the U.S. needs to get businesses back.

“This is the kind of stuff that drives businesses out,” she said.

She said she does not know how she is even going to approach her supervisors about having to put them on a time clock, and she does not believe the DOL should be allowed to mandate such regulations.

Moran said the Department of Labor is going to disagree with her.

“A department, not under direction from Congress, developed new legislation and new rules and regulations. This is about the third instance of the Department of Labor taking on a significant issue that has significant consequences, certainly to the business climate and the ability of businesses to employ as many people,” Moran said. “We made a number of attempts to undo this regulation, unsuccessfully. In part because in the Senate it takes 60 votes to pass legislation, so in this instance, even if you could get every Republican, you need six Democrats to agree with that legislation. That hasn’t happened.

“Our goal is two-fold. There is a procedure by which regulations can be appealed, and we’ve used that. That can be done with 51 votes, and the Senate and House both passed that repeal language and sent it to the president, and he vetoed the bill, so it is at loggerheads. The other part of this is if we can get Congress to function better than it does, to defund things … Not passing budget or appropriation bills filling spaces in that budget.”

Moran said they finally passed a budget, providing the framework for 12 appropriations bills, one which funds the DOL, which the appropriations committee can use to say “There is no money within your appropriations to implement this plan.”

“The argument that you made is the one that I think is important,” Moran told Zetmeir. “I suppose everyone would like to have higher wages, but the bottom line is everyone would like to have a job and you can do things that increase the cost of being in business that seemingly benefit somebody, but if it means your business is no longer competitive in a global economy, then there is no job, at whatever wage, whatever salary we’re talking about. These are decisions better made by businesses and the people they hire … which allows someone not to come to work for you if they feel you are not paying enough money. We agree with you.”

Moran added he thinks the Department of Labor needs to be reigned in under the Obama administration, along with several other departments.

Hospitals, schools, universities, private colleges have significant interest in the issue, too, Moran said, as the nonprofits are deeply affected.

Labette Health CEO Brian Williams said the hospital has looked at it, and while not trying to purposefully circumvent the regulations, he has to question, “Do we eliminate a job. Do we change what we are doing? Do we cut two jobs because  all of the sudden people that were making $24,000 to be legally exempt, we have to give them a pay raise to $47,000 or change the way we treat them. It has much more negative consequences.”

Medicare waste

Ann Charles asked Moran if he cold take word back to Washington to do something in regard to Medicare waste. Specifically, she said, while Medicare recipients can receive documents electronically, there is no option to opt out of receipt of hard copies. When told, “Please take off mailing list,’ they say, ‘It is not allowed. They have to be sent.’”

“So this is not a mistake on their part?” Moran asked. “This is what they say they have to do?”

Why not be able to opt out and save the federal government money and save trees, Charles said.

Moran said he was not aware that was the case, noting he was all in favor of the proposition and would see what he can do.

Special ed funding

Lou Martino, former teacher and current USD 503 school board member, said when he started teaching, only 20 percent of students were on free and reduced lunches, and now it is close to 70 percent. At the same time, he said Labette County has become No. 1 in the number of foster care kids in Kansas, many of whom have many psycho-social needs to be addressed before they can even focus on academics. There are also a large number of special education students.

“The issue is the funding,” Martino said, adding that USD 503 does not qualify for  extraordinary funding from the state of Kansas.

“Legislators are saying we have plenty of money to operate our schools. What they don’t understand is these kids need special help,” Martino said. “…our teachers are overwhelmed with a large number of students who have special needs.”

Martino said he is pleading for special education funding because of the special needs of these foster care kids under a foster care system in Kansas that is now under indictment.

Moran said he can do nothing to help with the state’s issuance of extraordinary funding. However he said he can work to advocate to stop the things that are driving up the costs of education, such as No Child Left Behind, which he said is an intrusion, expensive, damaging to the quality of education and ruining the teaching profession. In addition, he said, he is also an advocate for getting schools to the 40 percent Congress promised for special education funding, prioritizing the funding mandate of special education by federal law. Currently, special education is only being funded at about 16 percent, so money has to come out of schools’ regular classrooms to meet the mandate.

“We’re a strong supporter of federal mandates being paid for especially one as important as (this),” Moran said.

Funding for mental health care

Labette Center for Mental Health Services director Matt Atteberry requested Moran bring attention to problems rural areas are confronting in providing mental health services.

Medicare will reimburse services provided by licensed social workers and psychologists. Despite the fact there are now a number of other clinically recognized professions licensed by Kansas and recognized by KanCare, they are not recognized by Medicare.

“In all areas that’s an issue. In rural areas, that’s an extreme issue,” Atteberry said.

Clinical professional counselors, clinical marriage therapists, who would happily be employed at mental health centers, cannot be hired because LCMHS can’t get reimbursed by Medicaid. Given a choice of other, more expensive providers at the center, many go without services because they are paying more out of pocket.

“We are champions of your position,” Moran said, talking about seeing similar issues with VA and mental health provisions for veterans in their local communities.

EPA

Requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to provide funding to back the regulations they are imposing was another topic.

Moran said, “I think we are over regulated from the start,” but he supports money to cover regulations, especially for the many small towns that do not even have a large enough population to begin to charge people to help cover the costs of implementing those things to meet regulations, such as those related to water.

Texting while driving

Another topic brought to Moran was the possibility of creating legislation to create some type of device to restrict texting when someone is in the driver’s seat of a car, given the number of accidents and deaths related to texting while driving.

Insurance

Lynn Rucker told Moran his wife was in car accident last year. His wife was stopped for traffic, when a young woman in her 20s, texting, didn’t even apply her brakes to stop and hit his wife’s vehicle at a minimum of 65 mph.

The car insurance paid everything within its limits, and then Blue Cross started paying claims, which to date are just a hair over $500,000, Rucker said.

“We’ve gotten one letter from company in Missouri said they found out we got a settlement from the auto insurance and now they, Blue Cross, is wanting to take money back from those claims. The settlement, after the attorney took his fee, was $80,000. $80,000 compared to half a million dollars and they want some of their money back. … I guess there is a clause in Blue Cross policies and some bigger insurance companies that they can do that. How can that be?”

Rucker said by all rights, they shouldn’t have to pay out a dime for his wife’s medical bills, that the girl and her insurance should have to pay. Rucker said their expenses are far more than $80,000 because now his wife is on disability and has a brain injury and is no longer able to work.

“Yet we are still being victimized by a health insurance that I’m still paying premiums on every month,” Rucker said. “We need our legislators to get a hold of these big companies and say ‘No, you screwed them long enough.’ How are they able to make clauses like that?”

Moran said he will help if he can in conversation with Blue Cross Blue Shield to sort out what the law is, what that clause is.

“One thing is getting the Kansas insurance commissioner engaged in this to see if he can be of help to you in the negotiations or circumstances with Blue Cross Blue Shield,” Moran said.

Another man said people pay through the nose on premiums, but the insurance industry seems to have an open rule book to where if it is not profitable, they just up premiums.

“This industry seems untouchable,” the man said.

Moran said Kansas BCBS is regulated by the Kansas insurance commissioner, so it is the state of Kansas that regulates it and other health care providers in the state. There has been some talk about federal regulations of insurance companies, but that hasn’t taken hold.

“Things that are included in a policy and premiums that can be charged are determined by regulations here in the state of Kansas,” Moran said.

As a side note, Moran said: “We don’t have any health care providers in Kansas. There are just very few that are willing to provide health insurance because seemingly they can’t make money doing it. And BCBS, the reason why they were in my office recently, is because they are asking for a premium increase of significant size. They are putting it before the state insurance commissioner, and if they are unable to get it, they will not provide any policies under the Affordable Care Act, under Obamacare. And that will be our last provider in Kansas if the health care under the Affordable Care Act. I assume if they were making money, they wouldn’t be walking away and that may just be under the Affordable Care Act.”

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