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Legislative Panel Backs KanCare Renewal Plan, But Opponents Hope To Block Implementation

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
Rep. Dan Hawkins, left, a Wichita Republican, and other GOP legislators on an oversight committee this week approved the Brownback administration's proposal to seek renewal of its privatized Medicaid program for five years.

Republican legislators have temporarily sidetracked an effort to block the Brownback administration from obtaining federal approval to renew KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Democrats on a joint committee that oversees KanCare wanted the panel’s report to the full Legislature to recommend keeping the current program in place until a newly elected governor takes office in January 2019.

“If we are to extend KanCare by five years, which is what this does, we are going to take this right through the entire first term of the next administration,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, from Topeka, the top Democrat on the oversight committee. “I’m not comfortable as a legislator doing that.”

In addition to the timing issue, advocates and some lawmakers are concerned about several provisions in the administration’s KanCare 2.0 plan, including work requirements and lifetime caps on services for some beneficiaries.

But with two Democrats and a moderate Republican who has been critical of KanCare absent at the time of this week’s vote, Kelly had no chance of prevailing. So Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a moderate Republican from Topeka and chairwoman of the committee, suggested that the panel take no position.

That didn’t sit well with conservative Republicans who wanted to go on record in support of the administration, specifically Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who will take the reins of state government if and when the U.S. Senate confirms Gov. Sam Brownback’s nomination to a State Department post.

Colyer, a physician, is the architect of KanCare, which in 2013 transferred the health care of more than 400,000 low-income, elderly and disabled Kansans to three for-profit managed care organizations.

“I think we’ve got to move forward,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, in making a motion to back the administration’s plan to implement KanCare 2.0 by Jan. 1, 2019.

Members approved the motion on a voice vote. But representatives of advocacy groups opposed to “doubling down” on a KanCare program that they say continues to be plagued by administrative and service delivery problems blamed the outcome on timing.

“Had that vote taken place when everybody was here, his motion fails,” said Tim Graham, associate director of InterHab, a nonprofit organization that represents providers of community services to Kansans with developmental disabilities.

Opponents will continue their efforts to block or delay implementation, Graham said.

“This is a non-binding recommendation,” he said. “We need to take the conversation into the Legislature as a whole.”

Opponents hope to use the departure of several top officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state’s lead Medicaid agency, to bolster their case for delaying a decision on renewing KanCare until a newly elected administration takes office.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

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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