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Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program

Teddy Wilson

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week.

George Hornedo confirmed that the agency is investigating Brownback’s troubled privatization gambit, but declined to elaborate. “The department declines to comment due to this being an ongoing investigation,” Hornedo said, reported the Kansas Health Institute.

KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. 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.

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Representatives from the National Council on Disability this month heard hours of testimony about KanCare’s disability services during a forum in Topeka. The National Council on Disability is a federal agency that advises the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policies.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“We’re talking about personal care support services to help a quadriplegic get out of bed in the morning, to go about their activities of daily living,” Nichols said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s just that constant battle, and it seems like there are a lot of battles and it’s having an impact.”

During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan.

Last year, Democrats on the state legislature’s KanCare Oversight Committee called for the appointment of a separate committee to determine whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Brownback approved $3 billion in contracts with the managed care companies. Republicans on the committee blocked the proposal.

The three companies donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of current Kansas lawmakers since the KanCare program began in 2013, according to reporting by KCUR. Seven of 11 lawmakers who are members of the KanCare Oversight Committee received campaign contributions from one or more of the companies.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) was the only member who received campaign contributions from all three companies.

National Council on Disability members Clyde Terry and Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas lawmaker, heard testimony from 70 people at the forum, and the lone representative from the state was Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Service.

“We really want KanCare to be able to meet the promise of ensuring that we’re focused on the person’s needs and we’re not limiting access to services that help people stay in homes and communities,” Bruffett said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Bruffett testified that 428,000 residents are enrolled in KanCare and about 105,000 of those enrolled are seniors or people with disabilities. Bruffett said 1,448 residents are on a waiting list for physical disability waivers, and 3,319 Kansans are on a waiting list for developmental disability waivers.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) manage and provide oversight for KanCare.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, told the Kansas Health Institute that he is pleased that the justice department is continuing its investigation.

“This is good news, because there are issues in Kansas that need to be addressed,” Nichols said. “We are glad that DOJ is maintaining an active and ongoing investigation into this important area.”

A federal whistleblower lawsuit filed last week alleging Sunflower directed employees to shift KanCare patients away from high-cost health-care providers was dismissed. It is unknown if the lawsuit was settled out of court.

The lawsuit was filed by Jacqueline Leary, a former Sunflower executive who claims she was fired after objecting to the companies policies that she said were unethical and possibly illegal. Sunflower claims that Leary was terminated for poor job performance and the lawsuit was an attempt extort the company.

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