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Kansas awaits federal decision on Medicaid waiver

John Milburn, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Officials with Gov. Sam Brownback's administration said Thursday they are still waiting to hear from the federal government about a waiver request deemed necessary to implement changes to the Kansas Medicaid system.

Mark Duggan, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, told a legislative health care oversight committee that Kansas officials are in constant discussion with the federal Department of Health and Human Services about the state's waiver. If approved, the waiver would give Kansas some latitude in how it implements changes to its Medicaid programs.

Kansas already has awarded three contracts to managed-care organizations to run the Medicaid program, which provides health care coverage to 380,000 poor and disabled residents. Known as KanCare, the changes aim to control the state's health care costs.

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor's spokeswoman, said a decision was expected "soon" but didn't elaborate. Changes to the Kansas system are scheduled to begin in January.

"We continue to be encouraged by our talks about KanCare. We are making progress in our overhaul of our Medicaid system," she said.

Under KanCare, Brownback's administration has said the move will save the state $1 billion during the next five years without cutting benefits, limiting enrollment or lowering provider compensation rates.

Duggan told the committee that the administration wanted to continue working with legislators to implement the changes, including continuing some level of legislative oversight to respond to concerns.

"The system has been improved, and we'd like to continue that," he said.

Kari Bruffett with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Division of Health Care Finance told the committee that the state has been working with the three MCOs to approve provider manuals and meet with consumers across the state. She said numerous meetings have been held in person and online to explain the new system.

Bruffett said Medicaid recipients were sent letters in November notifying them that they had been assigned to one of the three MCOs. Additional letters will be sent in December along with a packet of information. Recipients will have until April to make changes to which MCO manages their cases.

She described the waiver process as getting down to final details over the terms and conditions of managing the Medicaid system and said meetings with federal officials have been productive, including making sure there were adequate protections built in the new system for providers and recipients.