Cerner executive Amanda Adkins won the Republican primary for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday and will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in the upcoming November election.
Adkins, who formerly chaired the state Republican Party, took an unpaid leave of absence from her role as Cerner’s vice president of strategic growth in January. Adkins was among five Republicans running for the spot.
According to the Kansas City Star, Adkins and Cerner will make a decision about her continued role at the company after the election.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Adkins’ campaign has received $16,425 in contributions from Cerner members, employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate family members. The National Institute on Money in Politics lists Cliff Illig, Cerner’s cofounder who retired from the company in January 2019, as donating $5,600 to Adkins’ campaign.
Davids’ campaign has received $2,916 from individuals affiliated with Cerner.
Campaign Legal Center Federal Reform Director Brendan Fischer said such donations sounded neither illegal nor unethical.
“It’s not terribly surprising that a candidate would raise money from his or her colleagues,” he said. But he noted that it does speak to the broader issue of the hurdles non-wealthy people, or those without wealthy connections, face when running for Congress.
“The only place that there could be a potential legal issue is that if there were corporate resources used to support her campaign or if there was pressure from execs to support the campaign for employees to make contributions; either of those things would be unlawful,” continued Fischer. “I only raise this to point out the potential issues; I’ve not heard any evidence of this.”
“Cerner encourages associates to be active participants in their communities and offer their talents and skills on their personal time. While Cerner may occasionally prioritize certain policy items we believe are in the best interest of our clients, we do not endorse a single party or candidate. We also continue to support our associates’ ability to exercise their rights, regardless of political affiliation. While Cerner as a corporation does not endorse specific political candidates, associates are free to make personal contributions to parties of their choice,” said a Cerner spokesperson via email.
“Amanda is grateful for the experience she had for 15 years as a Cerner associate improving health care in Kansas City and across the United States,” said Matthew Trail, communications director at Amanda Adkins for Congress. “Amanda’s professional achievements are well known, and she has always been committed to transparency and full compliance with ethics rules.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Adkins’ platform, according to her campaign website, includes pushback against the Affordable Care Act, which she says has increased the cost of care for Americans.
Kansas has not expanded Medicaid under the ACA. This past week, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, urged state lawmakers to do so.
Between 2013, the first open enrollment period for the health insurance exchanges, and 2016, the percentage of uninsured people in Kansas dropped from 12.3% to 8.7%.
But according to the Kansas Health Institute, 11.9% of nonelderly Kansas adults were still uninsured in 2017. Most of these individuals were working, had completed high school or higher and were U.S. citizens. Those with less than a high school education and those without U.S. citizenship were less likely to be insured. Roughly one-quarter were not eligible for Medicaid and did not qualify for marketplace financial assistance.
Regarding the COVID-19 crisis, Adkins expressed in July the importance of balancing public safety with privacy. She also said a greater percentage of medical supplies need to be produced in the United States. Adkins’ website also lists her support for defunding sanctuary cities and building a wall between the United States and Mexico; for investing in infrastructure such as highways; and for gun rights. It also cites her stance against abortion.
Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation who in 2018 made history as Kansas’ first openly gay U.S. representative, has pushed for the expansion of Medicaid in the state.
“The need to expand Medicaid in Kansas has become even more urgent than ever as millions of workers have lost their jobs and health care coverage due to the coronavirus pandemic. Congress must incentivize Medicaid expansion and support states that do so by passing the Incentivizing Medicaid Expansion Act, which would help Kansas afford to expand quality health coverage to an estimated 150,000 Kansans,” said Davids in a June statement.
THE LARGER TREND
Campaign watchdogs, including Fischer, have said Adkins’ role at Cerner means she needs to be wary of potential conflicts of interest, given that the company provides services to five federal clients.
The most notable of these include the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. In 2015, DoD chose Cerner to lead its massive EHR modernization, MHS-Genesis. And in 2018, the VA tapped the company for a decade-long, $10 billion project overhauling the VA’s legacy VistA electronic health record.
Although the VA project has been put on pause amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is scheduled to start up again in October. A recent Office of Inspector General report said that Cerner’s implementation would hopefully address some of the ongoing roadblocks to implementing health information exchange networks.
ON THE RECORD
“I’ve worked in healthcare for 15 years,” said Adkins in a July GOP congressional debate. “I think healthcare should be smarter, more transparent and more affordable overall. Smarter means that we should have a direct relationship with our healthcare providers … more transparent means that we should, in the first place, know what things cost and be able to make decisions. And more affordable: it is all about families being able to determine what their needs are based on their health needs and what they’re able to spend.”
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.
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