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Archive for August, 2013

I love Kansas City, I like St. Louis, and Columbia is OK.

But as far as I’m concerned, if the rest of the state slid off the earth, it wouldn’t bother me very much.  That’s mainly because it has become so politically hidebound.

Missouri used to be a “bellwether state.” Now, it’s just of that big midwestern blob of red that also includes Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Missouri, as a whole, is so backward-thinking that it was the subject of a front-page, New York Times story comparing how two states were handling preparations for practical application of the Affordable Health Care Act.

The “good” state that was featured in the story, which appeared on Saturday, was Colorado. I guess I don’t have to tell you what the “bad” state was.

In Colorado, where Democrats control the governor’s office and the House and Senate, the new insurance market is gearing up for sign-ups, and market employees are traveling the state to explain how the market — called Connect for Health Colorado — will work. Connect for Health is even running TV commercials.

A separate article about Missouri, on the other hand, painted a stark and depressing (to me, anyway) picture. The author of the Missouri story, Robert Pear, wrote:

turtle

Show Me

While states like Colorado, Connecticut and California race to offer subsidized insurance to their citizens, Missouri stands out among the states that have put up significant obstacles. It has refused to create an insurance exchange, leaving the job to the federal government. It has forbidden state and local government officials to cooperate with the federal exchange.

That’s just dandy, isn’t it? Missouri getting nationwide headlines for throwing up “significant obstacles” to implementation of a federal law?

I have written about this before — that successful implementation of this law is not just a matter of principle with me. It’s got a very practical dimension. Our 25-year-old daughter Brooks has been dealing with a serious case of anorexia for more than three years. She has been in and out of hospitals, residential treatment facilities and residential support houses (where she is now).

She will turn 26 next March, and at least by then she will no longer be eligible to remain on my private health-insurance plan. My wife Patty and I are banking on her getting into a state or federally sponsored marketplace.

Looks like we’re going to get zero assistance from state government.

One of those whom Pear quoted about the Missouri situation is state Sen. Rob Schaaf, who represents Buchanan (St. Joseph)  and Platte counties.

Schaaf wrote and sponsored a 2012 ballot measure that prevented the state from setting up its own insurance exchange. Of course, Missouri residents — many of whom loathe President Obama — approved the measure overwhelmingly. And, naturally, our tip-toey governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, has kept his trap shut because he doesn’t want to alienate the outstate voters. What a wuss!

But back to Schaaf…The Times quotes him as saying: “We (Missouri) can’t afford everything we do now, let alone provide free medical care to able-bodied adults. I have a philosophical problem with doing that, and I’m also worried about our country’s financial situation.”

What the hell is he talking about — “free medical care to able-bodied adults” ??? Public hospitals already provide that, and for-profit hospitals are supposed to provide some measure of free care to indigents.

And he’s worried about the country’s financial situation? Obviously, he’s not worried about the 850,000 uninsured Missouri residents.

…Now, here’s what Pear did not tell his readers about Schaaf. He is a physician with a family practice and is on the staff at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph. The hospital is owned by a for-profit conglomerate called Heartland Health. To put it bluntly, Schaaf is in Heartland’s pocket, and I predict that one day he’s going to have a very big administrative position at Heartland.  

Heartland and other health care conglomerates like the health care set-up just the way it is — where they can monopolize various areas and charge just about whatever they want for treatment.

The conglomerates see the Affordable Care Act as the first step toward health care reform, including more pressure for more reasonable pricing.

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Schaaf

One provision of the bill that Schaaf sponsored and that voters approved is that state and local officials cannot provide “assistance or resources” of any kind to a federal exchange unless federal law explicitly requires it.

So, Schaaf and the voters essentially thumbed their noses at the state’s uninsured residents and said, “Getting health insurance is between you and the federal government. Good luck.”

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I trust that most of you have read or heard about the newly unveiled plan of Cerner Co. executives to redevelop the Bannister Mall site as an office park, with 12,000 to 15,000 employees.

The first two phases of the “Three Trails Redevelopment Project” would cost about $200 million and cover 236 acres — all but 15 of which have been acquired by a company established by Cerner Chairman Neal Patterson and Vice Chairman Cliff Illig.

It’s great news for Kansas City, and for southeast Kansas City in particular.

The road to hope for the Bannister Mall site has been circuitous and neck snapping, as most of us know.  And today I heard a story that might hold the key to the crumbling of the earlier redevelopment plan that Patterson and Illig abandoned in 2009.

Indeed, the story I heard could explain a sequence of events that led to the pivotal, 2009 decision by Patterson and Illig to take their huge Cerner office complex and Sporting Park soccer stadium to western Wyandotte County.

This is a single-source story, but it’s from a knowledgeable businessman with a wide network of connections. He cannot be identified because…well, he doesn’t want to be. But he says of this story: “You can put it in the bank.”

So here it is:

The Cerner-Sporting Park proposal came along, in the mid-2000s. In 2007, Mark Funkhouser was elected mayor. Slowly and surely, you will recall, his wife, Gloria Squitiro, installed herself as his de-facto chief of staff, working as a “volunteer” and maintaining a desk just outside her husband’s 29th-floor office.

Squitiro’s overbearing and over-controlling manner prevented the office from working effectively, and it got worse after one African-American employee, Ruth Bates, sued the city for discrimination because Squitiro called her “Mammy.” The city ultimately settled the suit for about $500,000, but before that, Squitiro was forced to move out of City Hall.

But Funkhouser — ever the loyal husband — decided she was so important to the functioning of the office that he (and she) began holding important city meetings at their home on 57th, between Main and Wornall.

Coincidental to the brouhaha on the 29th floor, the Patterson-Illig plan was bogging down.

As development reporter Kevin Collison recounts it in today’s Star, “Kansas City and Missouri offered a $273 million incentive package, but the developer was unable to attract enough retailers to generate the tax revenue to finance the plan.”

So, it started crumbling. But it wasn’t altogether dead. Sometime in 2009, after Squitiro had been banished from City Hall, a last-ditch meeting took place between city and Cerner officials. It took place on 57th Street, at the mayor’s home. The subject at hand, apparently, was whether the city was willing to boost the proposed subsidy.

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Squitiro

Attending the meeting, my source said, were Illig and three other Cerner representatives and Funkhouser, Squitiro and a city development official.

During the meeting, Squitiro — remember, she was not a city employee in any way, shape or form — did a lot of the talking. So much so that, along with the setting, it gave Illig and the other Cerner representatives the heebie jeebies.

Soon afterwards, as Collison put it in his story, “the deal jumped the border.”

***

So how do you feel about that?

At the time, as I recall, Squitiro’s meddling was viewed mainly as an irritating sideshow.

But what if Gloria, in her own “I’m the queen” way, effectively altered the landscape of southeastern Kansas City and western Wyandotte County?

Is that a good thing? I think most Jackson County residents would say, “Hell, no!” while most Wyandotte County residents would say, “Why, thank you, Gloria!”

Fortunately, it looks like southeast Kansas City is going to be made whole, so to speak, and the ghosts of Bannister Mall will be laid to rest.

But the ghost of Gloria still hangs in the air.

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