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Questions Surface About Kansas Health Department’s Proposed Budget Savings

A Kansas House committee this week agreed to recommend Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

But the recommendation by the Kansas House Social Services Budget Committee comes with a big caveat: There’s a good chance that some of the projected savings won’t pan out.

“The KDHE budget that we have before us includes some questionable savings,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Will Carpenter, a Republican from El Dorado.

Carpenter said his concerns weren’t substantive enough to derail the governor’s plan. Still, he cited a “need to make people aware that some of the things that are in here may not happen.”

Earlier, several of the committee’s nine members said they were troubled by predictions from KDHE officials that policy changes in the state’s KanCare program, most of which have yet to be defined, would save $40 million a year for the next two fiscal years; that a decrease in Medicaid eligibility errors would save $13 million in fiscal 2017; and that changes in the behavioral health programs would save $3 million.

Rep. Nancy Lusk, a Democrat from Overland Park, said she was bothered that KDHE officials tied a portion of the savings — how much is unclear — to a proposal to repeal state statutes that ensure Medicaid patients access to mental health drugs.

“That bill just got introduced on Friday,” Lusk said. “There hasn’t even been a hearing on it.”

The committee also supported a request for a legislative post audit on the long-delayed implementation of the Kansas Eligibility and Enforcement System (KEES), a computer system meant to help state workers determine who’s eligible for Medicaid and other public assistance programs. The system was originally slated to go live in October 2013.

The committee also restored a $378,000 cut from a state-funded grant program for the state’s network of safety net clinics and, in turn, reduced KDHE administrative services’ budget by $378,000.

“I wanted to restore whatever funding we could for the safety net clinics,” said Rep. Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta, who made the motion to reverse an earlier decision to cut the funding.

“They do exceptionally well with the limited funding that they have,” Williams said. “They provide the maximum amount of quality care that they can. Their mission is right on target.”

In Kansas, 43 safety net clinics serve more than 252,000 patients, almost all of whom are low-income or uninsured. The clinics are receiving $8.2 million from state-funded grants in the current budget year.

The committee’s recommendations now go to the House Appropriations Committee for further scrutiny.

The seven Republicans on the committee voted for the measure, while the two Democrats — Lusk and Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat — voted against it.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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