Kansas Republicans blocked a proposal to create a special panel to investigate possible ethics violations in the operation of KanCare, the state’s $3 billion privatized Medicaid program.
Members of the KanCare Oversight Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to reject the appointment of a joint House and Senate committee that would be granted subpoena power to investigate the controversial KanCare program.
Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) said during the hearing that the purpose of the committee would be to investigate if any Kansas ethics laws have been violated, according to reporting by the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We, as the Legislature ultimately responsible for $3 billion in taxpayer money, need to conclude whether or not the contracts are being adhered to,” Ward said.
Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who won re-election in November despite prominent Republicans coming out against him, announced in 2011 that his administration would make sweeping changes to the state’s Medicaid program. The administration launched KanCare in January 2013, and the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out.
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In its place the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents.
Since its inception, KanCare has come under scrutiny for possible pay-to-play corruption and complaints of long waits for benefits.
The FBI has reportedly conducted an investigation into the Brownback administration’s approval of the $3 billion in KanCare contracts. Former Brownback chief of staff David Kensinger is reportedly at the center of an FBI investigation, amid allegations that he received financial compensation from all three companies.
The three Democrats on the joint House-Senate KanCare Oversight Committee called for the creation of the investigative committee in September, just as Brownback headed into the final month of his re-election campaign.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence) was critical of the KanCare program during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, which he would eventually lose to Brownback.
All six Republicans voted against the measure, which they viewed as partisan politics. “The election is over. I don’t know if we have enough information to go down some road that is endless,” said Sen. Jim Denning (R-Overland Park).
Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) said during the hearing that Kansans depended on state lawmakers to provide oversight for how state programs are operated. “We really do have a responsibility to the people of Kansas to oversee,” Kelly said. “This is almost the largest pot of money we have in the entire state. This is why we’re here. It’s what we are supposed to do.”