Topeka — A legislative committee Tuesday recommended increased monitoring of Medicaid costs and encouraged expanding the availability of health care services in Kansans' homes and community-based programs.
"We are moving toward a model of greater independence and greater individual responsibility," said Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, chairman of the Special Committee on Medicaid Reform.
The panel has met for several months and its recommendations will be forwarded to the full Legislature, which starts its 2006 session in January.
Medicaid is the federal-state program that provides health insurance and long-term care for low-income, elderly and disabled Kansans. It covers approximately 250,000 Kansans at a cost of $2.2 billion.
Kansas, like all states, is grappling with rapidly increasing Medicaid costs that have been caused by an increase in recipients, services and health care and drug costs.
The reform committee recommended establishing a new inspector general's office with broad powers to investigate allegations of misuse of funds.
The committee will also push for bills to give the attorney general's office more authority to seize assets in cases of Medicaid fraud, and provide a civil procedure to recover funds from false claims.
Committee members also indicated they would back measures to encourage getting services to people in their homes and communities instead of nursing homes.
They said these services provide recipients with more independent and productive lives and are less expensive than nursing home care.
Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas, has been fighting for these services for years.
"I am very pleased to have a portion of the committee's report to the Legislature committed to home and community-based services," Jones said.
The committee talked about reducing paperwork to apply for those services and increasing funding to eliminate waiting lists.
Last week, the Big Tent Coalition, a group of advocacy organizations, requested $10.3 million in additional funding to help 1,200 Kansans with developmental disabilities who are on a waiting list for home- and community-based assistance. Currently, about 6,000 Kansans with developmental disabilities receive this assistance.
Despite predictions earlier this year that increased Medicaid expenses were going to strain the state budget, the committee didn't take on the politically charged notion of trying to contain costs by making it more difficult to qualify for services.
"This is about small ticks on the rudder of a ship that is heading toward an iceberg," Schmidt said. But, he added, "If the economy remains strong, we should be able to get through."