Parkinson Focuses on Need for Long-Term Health Care Solutions

National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Sept. 30, 2013, 5 p.m.

Per­haps the latest cre­den­tial in health care — one that is shared by the top of­fi­cial at the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment and the head of the Amer­ic­an Health Care As­so­ci­ation — is the gov­ernor­ship of Kan­sas.

Mark Par­kin­son, who served as the 45th gov­ernor of Kan­sas, first met Kath­leen Se­beli­us, the state’s 44th gov­ernor, when they served as state rep­res­ent­at­ives from op­pos­ing parties.

They worked to­geth­er in the early 1990s to raise the driv­ing age in Kan­sas from 14 to 15. But they went their sep­ar­ate ways after leav­ing the state Le­gis­lature, with Par­kin­son go­ing on to serve as the Re­pub­lic­an state party chair and Se­beli­us mak­ing a name for her­self as the state in­sur­ance com­mis­sion­er.

Par­kin­son had, in fact, de­cided to close the door on his polit­ic­al ca­reer when he left his post in 1996, first to go back to prac­ti­cing law and later to man­age the as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­it­ies he and his wife were open­ing in the state.

But on April 1, 2006, they sold their busi­ness. One month later, the Se­beli­us-for-gov­ernor-of-Kan­sas cam­paign came knock­ing to see if Par­kin­son would agree to run along­side her for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor.

“Kath­leen’s people called me — I didn’t have people for them to call — and said, “˜Kath­leen has this in­ter­est­ing idea that maybe you guys could pair up,’ “ Par­kin­son said.

He agreed and switched parties to join the Demo­crats.

They won. It was smooth sail­ing un­til 2008, when Se­beli­us was vet­ted for vice pres­id­ent. But once that passed, Par­kin­son said, they nev­er thought she’d re­turn to Wash­ing­ton.

“Kath­leen did not in­tend to come back to D.C.,” Par­kin­son said. “Even after the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in 2008, I don’t think there’s any way she would have come back to D.C. for any po­s­i­tion oth­er than Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.”

Which, he ad­ded, was out of the ques­tion be­cause of former Sen. Tom Daschle’s nom­in­a­tion to the post. But after fa­cing cri­ti­cism for fail­ing to re­port tax­able in­come, the South Dakotan with­drew his name for the po­s­i­tion.

Se­beli­us was quickly nom­in­ated to be the new HHS sec­ret­ary, and she resigned as gov­ernor after her con­firm­a­tion. Par­kin­son was sworn in as gov­ernor the same day, April 28, 2009, but he did not choose to run for the po­s­i­tion in 2010. Mean­while, Se­beli­us took a lead­ing role in the pres­id­ent’s sig­na­ture health re­form ini­ti­at­ive. The Af­ford­able Care Act ex­changes opened for en­roll­ment Tues­day, which Par­kin­son called one of the law’s biggest achieve­ments.

“Kath­leen is pas­sion­ate about ac­cess, and wheth­er you like the ACA or not, it def­in­itely solves many ac­cess prob­lems,” he said. “I think the de­bate is wheth­er it solves the cost prob­lems.”

Par­kin­son has his doubts about wheth­er the ACA ad­dresses the cost of care. He won­ders wheth­er it will af­fect pri­cing in mar­kets out­side the ex­changes.

“To me, the rel­ev­ant ques­tion is not, “˜What is the cost of the new cov­er­age?’ The rel­ev­ant ques­tion is, “˜What is the cost to someone who doesn’t have to get new cov­er­age?’ “ Par­kin­son said.

He said the law will, on the whole, likely work out. But Par­kin­son — once a mogul in the Kan­sas as­sisted-liv­ing in­dustry — now serves as the pres­id­ent and CEO of the Amer­ic­an Health Care As­so­ci­ation and the as­so­ci­ation’s Na­tion­al Cen­ter for As­sisted Liv­ing, and he said there’s one thing he wishes the law had ad­dressed.

“It’s a shame that there is no long-term health policy in the ACA,” Par­kin­son said. “The only long-term cov­er­age people have is Medi­caid when they be­come com­pletely broke. It is a shame that when we were com­pletely over­haul­ing the health care sys­tem that we didn’t in­clude a solu­tion for long-term care.”

The ACA had made an at­tempt to solve long-term care through the Class Act, which has since been re­pealed be­cause it wasn’t well ex­ecuted or prop­erly fun­ded, Par­kin­son said.

The chal­lenge the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion faces, he said, is Con­gress’s in­ab­il­ity to fix the trouble spots in the law.

“It’s so con­tro­ver­sial that any at­tempt to open it up just de­rails the whole thing,” he said.

Par­kin­son, who is still a re­gistered Demo­crat, has no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing to the GOP. And he said he’s done with polit­ics — for real this time.

“The part of the Re­pub­lic­an Party that I was the lead­er of has lost,” Par­kin­son said. “It doesn’t really ex­ist any more. The cen­ter has dis­ap­peared.”

He said he be­lieves most people, like him, are mod­er­ates. But those people no longer hold the power in Wash­ing­ton.

“I think that par­tis­an polit­ics is very be­ne­fi­cial to the folks that fund our polit­ic­al sys­tem,” Par­kin­son said.

Where he once saw polit­ics as a way to get things done, he now views his po­s­i­tion at the AHCA/NCAL in the same light. CEO Up­date re­cently re­cog­nized him as one of the Top As­so­ci­ation CEOs for 2013.

But there’s still a sparkle in his eye when he re­calls his com­pet­it­ive days on the Kan­sas cam­paign trail.

“When I was a sopho­more in col­lege, I ran for the state Le­gis­lature,” said Par­kin­son, who now lives in Mary­land with his wife. “I was in Wichita, I ran against a 12-year in­cum­bent, so I went door-to-door to every house twice. I wore a three-piece suit every single day. It was one of those sum­mers where it was over 100 de­grees 26 days in a row. Even though I was com­pletely un­qual­i­fied, I only lost by 18 votes.

“People were just amused that someone would come by their house and ask for their vote,” he said.

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