Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 23 with information from legislative hearings.
As Kansas lawmakers move forward with efforts to increase oversight of KanCare, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer says Brownback administration officials are addressing the issues that federal regulators cited in denying a one-year extension of the program last week.
Colyer still says he thinks politics played a role in the decision, which came in the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency.
But hours after returning from the inauguration of President Donald Trump, he said in a phone interview Saturday that the state will resolve regulators’ concerns with KanCare, which provides health coverage to more than 425,000 Kansans.
“We always want to comply with the federal rules, and there have been a number of discussions that have gone on with them,” Colyer said. “But we believe that we can address any of these issues and are happy to do so.”
Officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gave Kansas until mid-February to submit a plan to solve compliance issues, which included a lack of reliable data on the provider networks maintained by the three private insurance companies that administer KanCare.
Colyer said he could not personally vouch for the accuracy of the network data.
He left that to leaders of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“I’m not the expert on that,” Colyer said. “The policy of the state of Kansas is we want to make sure that we do have an excellent network and if there are concerns, of course we want to deal with them.”
Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence, asked KDHE officials about the reliability of the KanCare companies’ provider lists Monday at a hearing of the House Health and Human Services Committee. Wilson requested data on the number of providers on the lists that had actually billed KanCare during the past year in order to determine which were actively seeing patients on KanCare.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee also bombarded state officials with questions about the CMS denial letters Monday. Like Colyer, KDHE Secretary Susan Mosier said she thought federal officials were being unfair.
But she said the administration now supports legislation to install an independent inspector general and an ombudsman to provide more oversight of KanCare.
Under bills already introduced, an inspector general position within KDHE that has been vacant for almost three years would move under the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and the ombudsman would move out of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
Advocates for Kansans in KanCare have pushed for those reforms for years, but their efforts found little traction until last year’s elections created a more centrist Legislature.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, chairwoman of the Senate health committee, said having the Brownback administration’s support of the independent positions should make for quick passage now.
“It would be important to note, I think that both bills on ombudsman and I.G. were introduced early on in the session,” Schmidt said. “So, regardless of the CMS letters, we in the Legislature already recognized the importance of that.”
Colyer said the state will meet the current CMS deadline for a corrective action plan and continue to plan for a one-year extension of the KanCare program.
Then he and the rest of the Brownback administration will begin writing new Medicaid contracts — with added flexibility he predicted the Trump administration would write into Medicaid.
“Everybody needs to recognize that there is a major change underway in Washington, D.C., and we will work with the existing staff and the new staff as they go on,” Colyer said.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.