A lobbyist for a Medicaid managed-care services provider took six Kansas Republican legislators to a steakhouse dinner in Denver, where the food and beverage tab exceeded $1,000.
Sens. Richard Hilderbrand, Galena, Ty Masterson, Andover, and Mary Pilcher-Cook, Shawnee, along with Reps. John Barker, Abilene; Willie Dove, Bonner Springs, and Daniel Hawkins, Wichita, were listed as attending the dinner, in a lobbyist report filed in September. The cost was divided to show the value for each legislator's dinner at $206.03.
"I'm not surprised, I'm not surprised," Dove told The News.
He recalled the July dinner was at an Elway's restaurant, owned by Denver Broncos' president of football operations/general manager John Elway. The legislators were in Denver to attend the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The online menu shows a Mediterranean salad costs $20, a 13-ounce bone-in filet, $60, and a bottle of California wine, $76.
Matthew Hickam, who owns Hickam Public Affairs Inc. in Topeka, lobbies for Centene Corporation and its subsidiary, Sunflower State Health Plan Inc., which has a contract with Kansas to serve Medicaid beneficiaries. Hickam filed the lobbyist report. The client was Centene.
Efforts to reach Hickam, Centene, Barker, Pilcher-Cook and Masterson were unsuccessful. Hilderbrand said he did not recall the July dinner.
Many of the spouses were there, too, Dove noted. "Two hundred for one person is a lot of money," he said, "but with spouses, it's not."
Even if spouses were present and ate meals covered by Centene, that expense was not part of the $206.03 cost shown for each legislator, according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission office. A lobbyist would put a spouse's meal as an unitemized expense, but would not attribute it to the legislator's dinner, said Governmental Ethics Commission staff. Also, a lobbyist does not add the expense of his own meal into the expense shown for the legislator, staff said.
Hawkins said he does not drink alcohol. Also, he has lost 130 pounds in the past year and had three-fourths of his stomach removed.
At those conventions, Hawkins said, there are always lobbyists who take legislators out for meals.
"They just divide the bill by the number of Reps. (Representatives) there, and so I get whacked for something I didn't even do," Hawkins said when asked about the $206.03 for food and beverage listed by his name.
"There was probably a lot of alcohol drank," he said. But not only does he not drink alcohol, he doesn't eat a whole lot, either, he said.
"To me, it's not fair," Hawkins said of the lobbyist expenditure reports and the process of dividing the total by the number of legislators.
Asked about the Legislature changing the reporting to require actual expenditures, Hawkins said there "would certainly be a lot of resistance" to itemization and lobbyists wouldn't like it.
Kansas privatized Medicaid management under the KanCare umbrella. In 2012, Sunflower State Health Plan Inc. was one of three organizations awarded a contract.
A new competitive round for KanCare managed-care organizations is about to begin. A request for proposals will be issued in November and companies will submit proposals in early 2018. The contracts awarded next year will be implemented Jan. 1, 2019, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Most of the legislators at the dinner serve on health-related committees. Hawkins is vice chairman of and Hilderbrand is a member of the Robert G. (Bob) Bethell Joint Committee on Health and Community-Based Services and KanCare Oversight.
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