Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer — gotta get used to that title — can rightfully boast he is a true, proven conservative who has designed and implemented a creative plan that, by getting government out of the way, has saved Kansas taxpayers more than $1 billion since its inception in 2013.
I’m referring to KanCare, the first-in-the-nation privatization of Medicaid. Colyer is the one who made it happen. And he has some bragging rights, although like any massive undertaking, KanCare has its flaws.
Let’s get the ugly part out of the way first. The health care program, originally designed to serve the poorest of Kansans and the physically disabled, should never have been expanded in scope to include the intellectually and developmentally disabled. That was a huge mistake that has led to widespread complaints about the closing of key facilities due to budget squeezes, inadequate services and nightmarish bureaucratic red tape.
That can easily be remedied. Put that segment of KanCare back in the public system where it was before. Leave the rest of KanCare, which has a far better record, in private hands with legislative oversight.
Five years ago, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and then-Lt. Gov. Colyer made a pledge to taxpayers. They promised the private sector would be more efficient implementing health care than the public sector, and thus the state would save $1 billion over five years. It actually has done better than that. At last count, the savings total $1.3 billion.
The two also promised health care for the poor and disabled would improve. The three private health care companies that run KanCare on a day-to-day basis have not necessarily improved anything. But there is not much complaining that health care for the poor and disabled has gone backward. The one big area for improvement would be to pay providers on a timely basis. The long wait time for providers to get reimbursed can stretch out for months And new disclosures point to delays in processing applications. During his current campaign for governor, Colyer might want to address those issues as he takes his bows for the efficiencies he has helped KanCare achieve.
The Brownback administration, spanning seven years, was overall a miserable failure. It may take decades to repair the damage that was done to just about everything that was touched. There is no sense in belaboring what everyone knows.
Colyer can’t be given a free pass on what occurred while he sat in the No. 2 position. He has to accept some of the blame. But it would be absurd to suggest that Colyer was a key driver in slashing taxes to unsustainably low levels. That was driven by the governor and legislative leaders. What can be said, and is worth repeating, is Colyer’s main claim to fame during that period was KanCare.
A plastic surgeon from Johnson County, Colyer had much to lose if KanCare flopped. His reputation as a physician could have been diminished. But politically speaking, Colyer would have ruined his chances to ever be elected governor if the one huge program with his name on it had turned into a disaster.
There is plenty of time between now and the Republican primary in August to differentiate among the many gubernatorial candidates. Thank goodness, there is also ample time to point out everything Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has attempted but failed miserably to accomplish. Unlike Colyer, Kobach, who is also running for governor, cannot rightfully claim one thing he’s done that was a political success.
Many conservative primary voters — those who will ultimately decide who the Republican nominee for governor will be — want to know which candidate is the proven conservative.
The best way for Colyer to claim that mantle is to remind voters again and again what he was able to actually accomplish as a conservative leader. He took a government-run health care program that was costing taxpayers $1 billion too much and then pioneered the first Medicaid privatization in America.