Kansas lawmakers have struck a deal to end their session-long battle over Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer's plan to tighten eligibility for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.
The compromise, detailed in the final budget bill of the 2018 session, blocks Colyer from implementing a work requirement and lifetime benefit cap as part of his planned “KanCare 2.0” makeover of the program.
Under the agreement, the administration could continue discussions with federal officials about eligibility changes that Colyer insists would help non-disabled KanCare recipients become more self-sufficient. But none could actually be implemented without the Legislature’s approval.
“The Legislature would have the final say,” said Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt, from Topeka, who helped negotiate the compromise with the administration.
“I feel very confident that this is an agreement that everybody can live with,” she said.
Shawn Sullivan, the Colyer administration’s chief of operations, said barring any last-minute changes by budget negotiators, “we’re pretty comfortable” with the agreement.
Colyer, a physician who until earlier this year was former Gov. Sam Brownback’s lieutenant, was the architect of KanCare, which in 2013 transferred the health care of more than 400,000 low-income, elderly and disabled Kansans to three for-profit managed care organizations.
Claiming that managed care has slowed the growth of Medicaid costs and improved health outcomes, Colyer moved to secure federal approval for KanCare 2.0, a five year extension of the program.
Lawmakers from both parties balked. Frustrated by years of red tape, application backlogs and frequent complaints from constituents they said that problems with the existing program needed to be fixed before moving on to a new version, particularly one that included several controversial changes in eligibility rules.
In addition to Schmidt, three Republican leaders in the Senate — President Susan Wagle, Majority Leader Jim Denning and Ways and Means Committee Chair Carolyn McGinn — announced their opposition to KanCare 2.0 early in the session.
“We believe there is still work to do to stabilize KanCare 1.0,” they said in a joint statement. “There is no certain path forward to KanCare 2.0 at this time.”
The budget-bill compromise authorizes the administration to seek federal approval for a three-year extension of the existing KanCare program staring in January 2019, with options for two additional one-year extensions. It also opens the competition for contracts to managed care companies that submitted KanCare 2.0 proposals.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service.