Kansas’ privatized Medicaid system, KanCare, could soon have an independent inspector general providing another layer of protection for recipients.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Thursday he appointed Sarah Fertig to the position that has been vacant since 2014.
One day after Schmidt appointed Fertig, Gov. Sam Brownback announced he had appointed health care businessman Jeff Andersen to be the next secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the department that houses KanCare.
Fertig, an assistant attorney general in Schmidt’s office, will be responsible for rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in KanCare if confirmed by the Kansas Senate.
“I’m really excited about them filling that job,” said Sean Gatewood, the co-administrator for the KanCare Advocates Network, which lobbies for KanCare recipients. “It will probably take a little time for them to get up and rolling but I imagine that could have a really positive impact on some of the troubles KanCare has been experiencing over the past five years. There’s other steps that need to be taken, but that’s a good first one.”
Brownback fully privatized Kansas Medicaid in 2012, granting about $3 billion worth of annual contracts to three private insurance companies: Amerigroup, Sunflower State Health Plan (a division of Centene) and UnitedHealthcare. In exchange, the companies provide medical and disability support services to about 430,000 Kansans, most of them pregnant women, children, elderly people and disabled people.
Parts of KanCare have proven controversial, especially the companies’ administration of disability services. Disability advocates have said the process of getting and maintaining services that allow people to stay in their homes has become more secretive since the privatization and in some cases steep cuts have been imposed.
The inspector general position was previously housed within the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which some advocates said presented a conflict of interest because that’s the same state agency that works with the three KanCare companies. The position has been vacant since former Kansas Rep. Phil Hermanson stepped down after just three months on the job following news reports about a past DUI, bankruptcy and campaign finance violations.
Brownback and KDHE officials never replaced Hermanson, saying there were few qualified applicants interested in the $77,000-a-year state job and at times questioning whether a KanCare inspector general was necessary.
Last year, after a wave of Democrats and moderate Republicans were elected, the Legislature voted to move the position to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.
“I have worked with Sarah for several years, and I believe she will be a solid, professional leader who can reestablish the office of inspector general as a helpful contributor to discussions about program operations and management,” Schmidt said in a statement.
The other appointee, Andersen, also will also have an opportunity to provide increased oversight of KanCare.
Andersen has 30 years of experience in the hospital efficiency industry, including executive positions at a hospital management consulting group called Vizient/VHA and a hospital supply chain consortium called Mid-America Service Solutions.
“Andersen’s extensive and successful background on both the provider side of health care as well as with managed care makes him a great leader for this very important agency,” Brownback said in a prepared statement. “We are pleased he has chosen to join our team in this role.”
Andersen will replace interim secretary Darian Dernovish on Jan. 16 and will be acting secretary pending confirmation by the Kansas Senate. Dernovish is bridging the gap left by Susan Mosier, who resigned from the job effective Jan. 5.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon who is Brownback’s point person on KanCare, is preparing to take over as governor as Brownback awaits confirmation to a federal position. Colyer is also preparing the next version of KanCare contracts, called “KanCare 2.0,” to begin in 2019. The state has asked federal overseers to allow some changes, including a work requirement for a small fraction of the KanCare recipients who are deemed “able-bodied adults.”
President Donald Trump’s Administration has signaled receptiveness to those work requirements.
But Kansas Senate leaders said this week they want to put the KanCare 2.0 talks on hold until Brownback, Colyer and KDHE fix problems with the existing KanCare system. Those problems include a long-running application backlog that has caused some nursing homes to limit the number of people with pending applications they will take in and shortages of mental and behavioral health care.