Government & Politics

Public meetings on KanCare cuts are canceled as Gov. Sam Brownback offers idea to restore cuts

When the Kansas Legislature convenes next year in Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback says, he hopes lawmakers and health care organizations can find a solution to offset cuts to KanCare programs.
When the Kansas Legislature convenes next year in Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback says, he hopes lawmakers and health care organizations can find a solution to offset cuts to KanCare programs. File photo

A week’s worth of public meetings about a recent cut to KanCare have been canceled and replaced with a letter to program participants.

KanCare is the state’s privatized Medicaid program that began in 2013. As a result of the state’s budget woes, Gov. Sam Brownback announced a 4 percent payment cut to certain KanCare providers earlier this year. Next week’s meetings were meant to help KanCare recipients understand the cuts’ impact.

Instead of holding those meetings as scheduled, the state announced this week that a letter with information about the cuts will be sent to recipients instead. The five forums were set to start Monday in Overland Park, with stops in Topeka, Wichita, Pittsburg and Dodge City before the end of the week.

State Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said KanCare knows that consumers are angry and upset about the program.

“I think they’ve got the message loud and clear,” Denning said. “If they’re going out in the community, taking resources from managing the program, going out to get their butts kicked, they ought to just stay home and start cleaning up all the issues they have and getting the program to run a little smoother.”

On Wednesday, Brownback said that he supports restoring the cut that he announced in May. To do that, he said in a statement, he advocates raising a tax on providers.

“At the end of the 2016 legislative session, we worked with health care organizations to find a solution to offset proposed cuts to KanCare reimbursement by implementing an increase in the provider tax,” Brownback said in the statement. “Those negotiations were not successful, resulting in implementation of a 4 percent cut in reimbursement rates. We will continue those efforts in the next legislative session. I look forward to working with the Legislature to restore the 4 percent cut in reimbursement rates and will call on them to pass an increase in the provider tax.”

State Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said the governor’s proposal to raise a tax on hospitals likely won’t be well received.

“Those guys already feel like they’re paying more than their fair share to plug the budget hole,” Kelly said. “...I don’t think they’re going to be the least bit interested in helping this governor out of this mess any more than they already are.”

Next week’s meetings aimed to help members of the public learn more about the governor’s cut.

A letter posted on KanCare’s website this week said all five sessions across the state had been canceled. The letter also gave contact information for the three KanCare managed care organizations that are carrying out the payment cut. They are Amerigroup, UnitedHealthcare and Sunflower Health Plan.

“These reductions are the steps we must take due to a tight state budget,” the letter says. “We are doing everything possible to sustain care and services to consumers.”

The letter also encouraged Kansans to learn about the cuts on KanCare’s website or email the state at KanCareReductions@kdheks.gov.

Angela de Rocha, KanCare’s spokeswoman, said sending letters to KanCare consumers is a more direct approach than asking people to attend the public meetings. Those letters are being sent out Thursday. This method more thoroughly and effectively meets the state’s obligation to keep KanCare consumers informed, de Rocha said in an email.

The forums’ cancellation happened after health care professionals and KanCare recipients came to Topeka earlier this month to voice their anger with the program. During the hearing, legislators who serve on the Robert G. Bethell Joint Committee that deals with KanCare oversight said they were angry and confused by the state of the program.

“We gave ’em hell,” said Denning, a lawmaker on the committee. “We really let them have it with both barrels.”

De Rocha said the forums’ cancellations had “nothing to do with” the recent heated oversight committee hearing.

Rep. Jim Ward was among those on the bipartisan committee who voiced frustration with state health officials in that hearing. Ward said Wednesday he was disappointed with the decision to cut the public KanCare meetings.

“I think these were canceled because they didn’t want to hear the problems that are going on,” said Ward, a Democrat from Wichita. “That’s even more concerning.”

Denning said the recent cuts are devastating to mental health providers and people who care for those with disabilities. They never should have happened in the first place, he said, and need to be reversed as soon as possible. If the Legislature had closed the LLC tax loophole when it had the chance, Denning said, the state could have avoided these budget cuts. The tax cut for LLC’s was part of Brownback’s 2012 tax plan.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if we would have closed that loophole,” Denning said.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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