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GOP Lawmakers Reject Request For KanCare Investigative Committee

Republican members of a joint legislative committee say there’s no need to launch a state investigation into allegations that lobbyists connected to Gov. Sam Brownback engaged in “pay to play” deals involving KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and member of the KanCare Oversight Committee, on Tuesday urged members to recommend the formation of an investigative committee in a report they’re preparing for legislative leaders.

Several news outlets have reported that the FBI is investigating the “pay to play” allegations, which are said to involve David Kensinger, a lobbyist and political consultant who served as Brownback’s chief of staff until 2012. The FBI, in keeping with its policy, has not confirmed or denied the investigation.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said it is “premature” to consider forming a special legislative committee and arming it with subpoena power.

“If the FBI is certainly looking at this, then they’re way better at it than us,” Denning said.

Ward also requested that the investigative committee dig into charges that the Sunflower State Health Plan, one of the three managed care companies running KanCare, violated the terms of its contract with the state. 

Jacqueline Leary, a former Sunflower vice president, alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that she was fired for objecting to a directive that she help steer KanCare members away from high-cost providers in the company’s network.

Sunflower is a subsidiary of Clayton, Mo.-based Centene Corp., which operates in 19 states in addition to Kansas.

“I do not want us to determine whether this person was wrongfully terminated,” Ward said. “But the allegations … deal with a contract that was made by a private company with the state of Kansas to deliver services to people we’re responsible for, with money we’re responsible for. And to find out whether the terms and conditions of the contract were broken is our responsibility.”

The other two Democrats on the oversight committee, Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, and Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence, supported Ward’s request. But all of the Republicans – Denning, Rep. John Edmonds, Rep. Willie Dove, Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., Rep. David Crum and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook – opposed it.

“I certainly don’t think we have any business in that thing because it’s a personnel issue,” Denning said. “I just don’t see what we could possibly gain out of it.”

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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