Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran says he supports more public health spending, lifting sequestration on medical reimbursements

John Green
The Hutchinson News
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, right, listens to Hutchinson Regional Medical Healthcare System CEO Ken Johnson discuss the hospital's response to COVID-19 while Chief Nursing Officer Amanda Hullet listens. Moran visited the hospital on Friday.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran visited Hutchinson Regional Medical Center on Friday to learn about its use of monoclonal antibody infusions in the fight against COVID-19. He also asked about other issues the local medical community was experiencing and what they foresee as a result of the pandemic.

During the 40-minute meeting with hospital administrators, Moran voiced support for more federal investment in public health, maintaining a pause in federal “sequestration," and expansion of mental health services.

Moran also suggested Kansas would be a great place for health-related manufacturing, though noting it would probably require public support for higher product costs.

Moran was in Hutchinson to deliver a commencement address for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. He also spent an hour walking around Inman before arriving, he said.


The hospital drew positive attention from federal health officials in January for its high use of a couple of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, which appear effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19 when used in high-risk patients before they become sick enough to require hospitalization.

Just weeks into their distribution in January, the hospital had administered at least one-sixth of all doses allocated to the state for one of the treatments.

While totals were not available on Friday, HRMC President and CEO Ken Johnson said he believed the treatments had been delivered to more than 500 patients, most of them referred to the hospital by local doctors.

The administration is through an intravenous infusion at the hospital, which takes a couple of hours. The marked reduction in new confirmed COVID-19 cases has enabled the hospital to relocate the infusion clinic to a single room in its ICU, where three chairs are set up. At one time they had three times that many infusion stations operating.

At the peak of the pandemic locally, the hospital had more than 40 COVID-19 patients housed in three areas of the hospital, with nine people on ventilators and 25 on other types of breathing machines, Johnson said.

At one point the hospital had 60 staff members who were out, either ill or suspected infected with the virus, Johnson said. But the hospital reported not a single patient contracted the disease while there.

On Friday, there was only one COVID-19 patient in the hospital, who was not on a ventilator, and no staff out.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, left, talks with Hutchinson cardiologist Mike Hagley during a visit to Hutchinson Regional Medical Center on Friday, March 19, about the lingering effects of COVID-19 he's seeing in some patients.

Lingering effects

They do, however, continue to see impacts from the disease in patients with lingering heart and pulmonary disease complications, said Mike Hagley, medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab and a hospital board member. That includes some with persistent high heart rates, he said.

They also continue to see results of people requiring “higher-level intervention” because they delayed coming to the hospital for issues that weren't COVID-19-related. Hagley noted EMS calls are up because of people still not wanting to visit the emergency room.

“Fortunately we’re in a position to tell patients there is very little risk in coming to the hospital,” Hagley said. “Particularly for cardiology, where a lot of things are outpatient. We’re segregated from the in-patient group, and I can assure them they’ll not have any trouble.”

During the worst of the pandemic locally, Hagely told Moran, there were some limitations, with beds not available.

“We had to become more creative in providing post-care and we became a little more aggressive about sending people home,” he said. “I think actually, long term, the effect will be beneficial from an economic point of view. It’s going to change the paradigm of post-care. It’s a good spin-off of an unfortunate situation.”

Despite assurances, Johnson said, the hospital is not yet back to pre-COVID-19 patient or treatment numbers.

“We’re approaching it, but we’re still seeing much more outpatient than inpatient,” Hagley said. “We are seeing a different paradigm. Inpatient case has declined over the years, but now it’s taken a step down. It will return to some degree, but not to where we were.”

They expect to see more patients return as COVID-19 vaccinations increase, but are taking “a pretty conservative approach on our future,” Johnson said.


Moran asked about any reluctance in the community to getting the vaccine, to which Amanda Hullet, the chief nursing officer at the hospital, noted “robust, full clinics” hosted by the Reno County Health Department.

“I only know what someone tells me, but it seems to me, the risk we run as a country, as a population, is that a sufficient number of people be vaccinated,” Moran said. “It (the vaccine) helps them, but it helps everyone else, too, especially with the variants.”

Asked by The News about vaccination rates among hospital staff, Hullett said “off the top of my head, maybe 65 to 70 percent.”

Johnson, however, said numbers from Human Resources indicated “declination rates in the low 20 to 25 percent, with many of those being contraindications because of health or other specific reasons their physicians feel it’s not the best time to have it.”

Hospital staff are not required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

“We feel good about the number of staff in the health care system who’ve been vaccinated,” Johnson said.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, goes through an electronic check-in at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, which included answering questions and a temperature check, before entering the hospital on Friday.


Moran noted he’s the only member of the Senate “to add a fourth A to my committees” from recent committee assignments.

He’s the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, as well as a member of the appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

He’s also an “authorizing” member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has broad jurisdiction over the country’s health care, education, employment and retirement policies, including public health and biomedical research.

Moran said he’s hearing from constituents that the U.S. government needs to invest more in public health, and that “it can happen here.”

“We need to make sure we are manufacturing products and vaccines so they are readily available,” he said. “I hope it means something for Kansas, in the center of the country.”

“I think it’s generally known we can get things other places that are less expensive than here, even with shipping costs,” he said. “It’s going to take public support for manufacturing so that we can overcome that cost differential. It may cost us as citizens, but the benefit we get is quality and timeliness of its availability. We don’t want to be dependent on China for the health and wellbeing of our nation. Beyond that, trying to get products out of Honduras or Nicaragua is difficult to do.”

“It means financial support to get a company to relocate, so they can afford to do business in the U.S. versus where they are manufacturing cheaper,” he said.


Moran, responding to a question from hospital officials, noted that Congress agreed to a pause in sequestration as part of the response to the pandemic, and he hopes that the pause may be made permanent.

Sequestration refers to “across the board” cuts in federal spending of 1% to 2% mandated when agreement can’t be reached on targeted budget cuts. That includes Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and other care providers.

“I didn’t vote for it,” Moran said of imposing sequestration. “If you’re wanting to reduce taxpayer spending, across the board cuts is an irresponsible way of doing business. Everything has the same priority as everything else and it doesn’t force us to make decisions about what we need. I’m in favor of eliminating it, particularly when it comes to our (medical) providers. Most of our hospitals, regardless of their size, are hanging by a thread. Anything that changes their capacity to be reimbursed, public or private, can influence if they’re still around. I’d like to keep them in Kansas alive and well.”

While noting mental or behavioral health are funded at the state and county level, “it’s important enough for me, we need to start intruding on what is a local issue to find ways for the federal government or federal taxpayers to be supportive in increasing mental health.”

The ways he’s been approaching that is through Veteran Affairs, but he also suggested increased reimbursements for telehealth, which is better than no access at all.

Horizons Mental Health Center CEO Mike Garrett suggested Congress look at continued expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. Horizons recently become one of six CCBHC’s in Kansas with the help of a $3 million grant, out of 26 regional mental health centers in the state.

“The goal should be to have all 105 counties covered with one,” Garrett said.