With all of the talk in recent years about Kansas’ budget problems, it can be hard to keep track of what programs have been cut and by how much.
So, some Kansans may not remember that last summer Gov. Sam Brownback ordered more than $56 million in cuts to KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. Including the amount of federal matching funds lost, the cuts amounted to $128 million.
Kansas lawmakers remember the cuts, and they are taking steps to reverse them.
“It’s certainly a priority for me,” said Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who chairs the Public Health and Welfare Committee.
On Thursday, the Senate took a first step by passing a bill that would raise fees that insurance companies classified as health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, pay to do business in the state. That includes the three managed care organizations that administer KanCare.
The bill would not restore all the cuts. Instead, it would reverse a $47 million reduction in reimbursements paid to hospitals, safety net clinics, nursing homes and community mental health centers for providing care to the approximately 425,000 low-income, disabled and elderly Kansans enrolled in KanCare.
As originally written, the bill would have imposed the HMO fee increase retroactive to Jan. 1. But the Senate changed the implementation date to July 1. That means the state will not have the money to reverse the cuts until Jan. 1, 2018, according to the Kansas Hospital Association.
Still, Tom Bell, the hospital association’s president, said his members are encouraged by the Senate’s approval of the bill on a 27-13 vote.
“We are pleased that the Kansas Senate has taken an important step toward reversing a policy that has been harmful to health care access in Kansas,” Bell said.
The effort to reverse the cuts could get more complicated in the House, where some members are backing a bill that in addition to raising the HMO fee would increase a state assessment on hospitals known as the “provider tax.”
The hospital association and groups representing doctors, mental health centers and safety net clinics strongly oppose the House bill, arguing in testimony Thursday to the House Health and Human Services Committee that it “harms the providers it is intended to help.”
The House bill is thought to have the backing of the Brownback administration because the governor and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer want to use some of the additional money it would generate to provide grants to struggling rural hospitals, create more residency slots for graduating physicians and help establish a private osteopathic medical school.
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.