By Jim McLean, September 26, 2016
Several Kansans are scheduled to meet Tuesday with federal officials and counterparts from across the country to discuss issues related to the privatization of state Medicaid programs.
Two Kansas legislators — Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka and Republican Rep. Chuck Weber of Wichita — are expected to attend the meeting in Baltimore, along with Rocky Nichols, a former legislator who now heads the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, Janet Williams, the chief executive of Communityworks Inc., a home health agency based in Overland Park, and Mike Oxford, director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.
The meeting comes at a critical time for Kansas officials, who are expected next year to seek federal authorization to continue the state’s $3.2 billion managed care Medicaid program, known as KanCare.
The Maryland gathering is being hosted by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency created to advise the president and Congress on issues affecting Americans with disabilities.
Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas legislator who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, is a member of the nine-member council and will attend the meeting with fellow commissioner Neil Romano.
Blumenthal declined comment ahead of the meeting. But Kelly, the top Democrat on the state legislative committee that oversees KanCare, said she hoped to convince officials attending from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide stronger oversight.
“What I want to hear from them is that they are going to implement a more robust oversight process and they are going to hold state officials’ feet to the fire when it comes to doing the things they promised,” Kelly said.
Among other things, Kelly wants CMS to require the appointment of an independent ombudsman to investigate and resolve disputes between KanCare recipients and the three managed care organizations that administer the program.
Kerrie Bacon, the current ombudsman, is embedded in the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and has no independent investigative authority.
KanCare has been controversial since its launch in 2012 by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. There have been steady complaints from hospitals, doctors and other health care providers about late payments and problems getting treatment authorizations from the managed care organizations.
More recently, providers have strongly protested $56.3 million in KanCare cuts that Brownback ordered to balance the state budget. The reductions, which were implemented in July but haven’t yet been approved by CMS, will trigger a loss of approximately $72.3 in federal funds, meaning their total cost will exceed $128 million.
The transition of support services for Kansans with physical and developmental disabilities to KanCare also has been controversial. Disabled Kansans and their guardians regularly appear at oversight committee meetings to testify about difficulties they’re having getting needed services.
Approximately 400,000 low-income families, Kansans with disabilities and seniors who otherwise couldn’t afford nursing home care are covered by KanCare.
In addition to the contingent from CMS, several federal officials are expected to attend the Baltimore meeting. They include Gary Graca of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Aaron Bishop of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Maria Town, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Officials and disability advocates from Arizona, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also are expected to participate.
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