Effort For Long-Term Extension Of Kansas' Privatized Medicaid Might Run Short

Jan 23, 2018

The Brownback administration may soon throw in the towel on a plan to lock a more restrictive version of Kansas’ privatized Medicaid program in place for another five years.

A top Republican lawmaker in talks with Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, the administration’s point person on extending that privatized Medicaid program known as KanCare, said the effort to create a longer-lasting version referred to as KanCare 2.0 appears in jeopardy.

“You are going to see KanCare 2.0 pared back,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, the chair of House health committee.

Kara Fullmer, a spokesperson for Colyer, confirmed that talks are underway but said there is no timetable for a decision.

“We’re taking the time that it takes to receive all the input and make the best decision,” Fullmer said.

The administration submitted its KanCare 2.0 proposal in late December to officials in the Trump administration. Similar to a Kentucky plan approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services earlier this month, the Kansas proposal would require some non-disabled KanCare recipients to work or participate in job training and impose a lifetime cap on their benefits.

Sensing that federal approval was likely, Kansas lawmakers opposed to the changes swung into action. Last week, they introduced bills in both houses to block the Brownback administration from moving forward.

“I’m not sure that those bills will actually get used,” Hawkins said.

But, he said, those bills still offer leverage to halt KanCare 2.0 if negotiations break down.

Hawkins and other lawmakers don’t want to commit to a long-term extension of KanCare until persistent problems with the existing program — application backlogs, delays in provider payments and disputes over services provided to Kansans with disabilities — are fixed.

Since 2013, three for-profit companies known as managed care organizations have administered KanCare, which provides health insurance to more than 420,000 low-income, disabled and elderly Kansans.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor, said the decision to negotiate an alternative to KanCare 2.0 suggests the administration correctly reads the “Legislature’s mood.”

“They’re doing the smart thing,” Kelly said, adding that any attempt to press ahead would be “dead on arrival.”

Many of the groups opposed to KanCare 2.0 favor expanding Medicaid eligibility to tens of thousands of additional low-income Kansas adults.

The Legislature passed an expansion bill last session but failed by a few votes to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto.

There is no indication that expansion is among the issues under discussion in the current round of negotiations.

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Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.