By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
FAIRWAY — The feds have allowed Kansas to take an initial step toward turning its $3 billion state Medicaid program over to private insurers.
But Kansas will have even less time to make the change by the Jan. 1 target, if ultimately approved.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulate the joint state federal low-income health plans known as Medicaid, said Tuesday the application for changing its plan met federal standards in regard to turning in the paperwork.
But more public comment is needed — by Sept. 20 — before the federal regulators decide whether to approve the plan in its entirety.
That decision is expected sometime in October, which could leave the state barely six weeks to switch 380,000 Kansas Medicaid patients – more than one-eighth the state’s population — to the new plan by Jan. 1. Federal authorities have established special website to record comments on the plan.
Kansas’ current Medicaid plan operates with a traditional fee-for-service format. Doctors and other health-care providers treat patients, then bill the state for each service. The state pays about 40 percent of the cost; matching federal funds pay the rest. Starting next year, three health insurance companies that run managed-care plans will coordinate the treatments and handle the billing.
The change will happen on time and provide Medicaid patients with dental coverage and other benefits they don’t have now, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration says. The change is vital to slow escalating costs in the $3-billion-per-year safety net before those costs shred the rest of the state budget, Brownback and the state’s health policy chiefs say.
“We won’t start it if it isn’t ready,” said Miranda Steele, chief spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “But so far, everything is going according to plan.”
The departments of Health and Environment and Aging and Disability Services already are holding new rounds of public meetings in August and September, Steele said.
At the same time, the three managed-care companies hired to run the new plan – Amerigroup Kansas, Sunflower State Health Plan and United Healthcareof the Midwest Inc. – will set up and test their operations before KanCare goes live in January, Steele said.
Skeptics hope it works.
In April, the Kansas Health Institute News Service in Topeka reported that leaders in at least 20 Kansas counties were petitioning the state to slow the implementation of KanCare for developmentally disabled Medicaid patients and people in mental hospitals. The respective care often requires extensive institutional treatment for which managed care cost-cutters have little experience, the skeptics argue.
“We wanted them to pay attention to what the hell was really going on,” Saline County Commissioner John Reynolds, one of the petitioners, said Wednesday.
Johnson County, one of the state’s most populous counties, has about 2,000 residents requiring more intensive Medicaid care, said County Commission chair Ed Eilert in Overland Park.
“Those historically have never fit in to the managed-care model,” Eilert said.
KanCare architects relented a bit on that point and won’t bring those Medicaid patients into the managed-care fold until Jan. 1, 2014.
Contact Gene Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org