© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KCUR FM is operating at lower power and KCUR HD1 & HD2 (Classical) are off air while Kansas City PBS performs repair work. Signals will be restored this afternoon.

Kansas Still Awaiting New KanCare Watchdog

Whoever emerges as the top candidate from a crowded field of applicants for the state’s Medicaid inspector general post likely will be vetted more carefully than in the past.

Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will conduct a background check of the candidate before he or she is appointed.

“It’s something that we’re going to require before extending the contract,” he said.

That’s a recent change in the hiring process. Before, he said, no formal vetting was done on people in key positions until after they were hired.

Citing rules about discussing personnel matters, Moser declined to say whether the change was triggered by a recent chain of events surrounding the appointment of former legislator Phil Hermanson to the inspector general’s post.

Hermanson resigned after only a few months on the job when questions were raised about his suitability for the oversight position given that his background includes a DUI conviction, campaign finance violations, a business bankruptcy and personal financial problems.

Those revelations and Hermanson’s lack of a college degree or relevant career experience prompted several Democratic legislators to question whether he should be in charge of overseeing the financial and operational integrity of the $3 billion Medicaid program, which in Kansas is known as KanCare.

One of those critics, Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita, said the Hermanson episode puts pressure on Moser and Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to get it right this time.

“The goal is to get a good inspector general,” Ward said. “We want a good person in the job. We want quality work done, and we want detailed reports.”

The state has had some trouble retaining inspectors general. Robin Kempf, the first to hold the position in the now-defunct Kansas Health Policy Authority, resigned in late 2008, saying that the agency’s leadership and board didn’t allow her enough independence.

Kempf’s replacement, Nick Kramer, retired in 2011 as the policy authority was being merged into KDHE. It took officials in Brownback’s administration more than a year to hire Bill Gale to replace Kramer. Then, Gale left in January of this year to head the Department of Children and Families regional office in Wichita. Hermanson was appointed three months later.

The state also has had trouble sometimes attracting many qualified applicants for the $77,000-a-year-job. But, Moser said, that isn’t the case now.

“We’ve had a double-digit number of applicants this time around, and some very well-qualified individuals,” he said.

Interviews will be conducted over the next couple weeks. Once a selection is made, Moser said, it will take a minimum of two weeks to complete the background check.

“Our hope is to have an inspector general in place and under contract by October,” he said.

Whoever is hired will be prohibited by state law from exercising the full authority of the office until he or she is confirmed by the Senate, which won’t meet until the 2015 Legislature convenes in January. However, an interim committee could grant the appointee temporary authority.

The Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight is the panel most likely to take up the nomination. It is scheduled to meet next on Nov. 18.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.