By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
TOPEKA — Kansas this week signed a $135 million contract for a new state computer system designed to centralize applications for Medicaid and other joint state-federal assistance and insurance plans for those in need, state officials announced Tuesday.
The new system, formally known as the Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System, or KEES, also is designed to be the state’s alternative to plans for a new state-run, health-insurance exchange required by the new federal health care law in 2014.
Kansas is one of 26 states suing the federal government to overturn provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The law requires uninsured Americans to buy health insurance through such an exchange if no other source was available to them.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, earlier this month returned a 31.5 million federal grant awarded to the state for developing the exchange, saying those funds came with too many strings attached. He said relying on federal funding would be unwise as Washington, D.C., continues to cut federal spending.
About 90 percent of the money committed to KEES, or more than $121 million, also will be federally funded, said Lt. Gov, Jeff Colyer , also a Republican, who announced the new program Tuesday.
But the KEES money, coming from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is separate from the exchange programs in the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t require creating exchanges, Colyer said.
That will allow the state “to meet Kansas’ needs without the kind of strings that tied (the rejected grant) to implementation of federalized health care and the individual mandate,” Colyer said.
The contract revealed Tuesday broadly calls for Accenture Inc., the U.S. arm of a Dublin-based international global management, consulting and technological outsourcing firm, to develop by 2013 an $8- million centralized online network to screen and process requests for food stamps and various health services for children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and those who are elderly.
Accenture most recently was awarded a $26-million contract in 2008 to develop a statewide financial software system to streamline personnel and payroll operations.
Once the KEES system is running, operation costs are projected to be about $10 million a year, or about what the state spends now running those same programs through a hodgepodge of mismatched computer systems at the state departments of Social and Rehabilitation Services and Health and Environment, Kansas’ two largest Medicaid and social services agencies.
Running the applications for those services through a single database “will save Kansas millions of dollars by identifying fraud, reducing duplication and reducing errors,” said Rob Siedlecki, the state’s Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
He and other officials declined Tuesday to say how large the savings might be.
And despite the far-reaching nature of the data banks, which ultimately may allow authorities to cross check applicants’ claims against tax records and unemployment benefits claims, “no one is going to be rummaging through anyone’s files,” said Robert Moser, the state’s Secretary of Health and Environment.
Richard Fry, a leader in several tea party groups and an organizer of the Stop Obama Care in Kansas tour, was not moved by the announcement. “We have been expecting this announcement since the Governor returned the federal Exchange grant. The Governor tried to pass off the governmental exchange as a K-MED enhancement up until the time the federal exchange grant was returned. I have been telling the SOCK participants that the Governor would continue to try to sneak an Exchange on Kansans under the guise it was an enhancement to the Kansas welfare eligibility system.”
Other opponents of the federal Affordable Care Act policies generally hailed Tuesday’s announcement.
“This is great news and good to see this administration has a clear understanding of the state of Kansas’ needs to catch up with technology so Kansans (can) get the service they deserve,” said state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, who has proposed a state constitutional amendment exempting Kansans from federally required health-plan purchases.
“As a software engineer, I can tell you this is long overdue,” Pilcher-Cook said.
“The cost of health care is increasing significantly every year for our business owners,” said Jason Watkins, government relations director for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican state representative from that city.
“Fraud is a big cost driver, so anything the administration can do to detect fraud and penalize and prosecute people for committing fraud, we’re all for it,” Watkins said.
But the new KEES system does not untangle Kansas from federal health-care laws or the health insurance exchanges KEES is designed to replace according to Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, who is heading a planning project to organize a Kansas exchange by 2014.
“That is part of the law, and unless it is overturned in court, either a state-based exchange or a federal one will be put in place in Kansas,” Praeger said. “I think it would be better if a state-based exchange were chosen.”
Praeger said she intended for the group of more than five dozen business, insurance industry and tech company representatives and policy specialists working on designing a Kansas exchange to continue that work in case the requirement to buy health insurance survives the court challenges.
However, the group has little money with which to finish the work, because it was funded by the federal grant money that Brownback returned to Washington.
“We can still beat the deadlines we face if the Legislature provides us funding by next spring,” Praeger said.
Paul Soutar of KansasWatchdog.org contributed to this story.
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KEES contract and other documents on the Kansas Department of Administration Division of Purchases