Proposed changes to KanCare — the taxpayer-funded health care program that more than 400,000 poor, elderly and disabled Kansans depend on — face increasing resistance from key players in the Kansas Capitol.
A week ago, incoming Gov. Jeff Colyer promised to back off a plan that would have imposed a work requirement and benefit caps on some of the Kansans enrolled in the state’s privatized Medicaid program.
Yet the administration he’ll inherit when he takes over for Gov. Sam Brownback this week hasn’t retreated from its call for tougher eligibility rules.
“Please don’t fall for any false promises,” said Tim Graham, a lobbyist for caregivers who work with disabled Kansans.
So advocates for KanCare recipients want lawmakers to block agency officials from securing the federal approval that could lock the pending changes in for years to come.
The Brownback-Colyer administration has already submitted its KanCare 2.0 plan — including its new work requirements — for federal approval and accepted bids from companies seeking lucrative managed care contracts.
Future business partners, administration officials said, would lose faith in KanCare and the state’s willingness to stick with contracts if lawmakers killed the latest plan.
“I just want to be careful that we don’t put ourselves behind the eight ball,” said John Hamdorf, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment official who oversees KanCare.
Members of the Senate budget committee are considering a bill that would expressly prohibit the administration from making any changes to KanCare. The program has generated complaints from providers and patients alike about increased red tape and reductions in services since its launch in 2013.
Key members of the committee say they’re willing to allow the administration to seek federal approval to extend the current program by three years and to invite the companies now seeking KanCare 2.0 contracts to revise their bids.
“That’s a good compromise,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor.
Under the proposal, the three managed care companies that now administer KanCare would have to compete to retain their contracts.
“The state will get a better contract if there are more companies competing,” Kelly said.
The emerging agreement would require the administration to withdraw the KanCare 2.0 plan it submitted in December to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and replace it with a request to extend the existing program.
Any effort to impose a work requirement or benefit cap would require the state to seek a separate waiver from Washington, according to lawmakers negotiating the compromise.
Several organizations recently filed a lawsuit to block Kentucky officials from implementing the nation’s first Medicaid work requirement.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.