Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback's administration prepared Tuesday to kick off public forums on reforming the Medicaid program in Kansas, part of a review that's supposed to result in proposals later this year for controlling the state's costs in providing health care to the needy.
The first of four planned forums is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Topeka, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a surgeon who's leading the administration's Medicaid team, said at least several hundred people will be attending the event. Both Brownback and Colyer are expected to participate.
"We're trying to tackle the overall structure, also how it serves patients, how we deal with costs and quality," Colyer told The Associated Press.
The Medicaid team also has scheduled forums for July 7 in Wichita and July 8 in Dodge City. Colyer said it will have another in late summer in the Kansas City area and expects to draft its proposals by early fall.
The Republican administration's efforts are likely to be closely watched by legislators and advocates for the poor, elderly and disabled. Those groups have medical services covered by the program, which is administered by the state under rules set by the federal government, which picks up about 60 percent of the program's costs.
The state's budget, now $13.8 billion, has long been under pressure from rising Medicaid costs, which tend to spike during economic downturns. Kansas' total Medicaid spending is expected to approach $3 billion during the fiscal year that begins July 1, and an average of 344,000 Kansans are participating in the program each month, up 8 percent from a year ago.
"I'm sure cutting costs is one of their highest priorities, but my hope is that we end up with a system that takes care of those individuals who need Medicaid," said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican.
Brownback has said repeatedly that he wants to rein in costs and improve the delivery of services. Colyer's team already has taken dozens of suggestions from groups and individuals, ideas that include increased use of managed care, changes in how prescription drugs are covered, more aggressive pursuit of fraud and even an end to Medicaid coverage of circumcision.
"We need to totally transform the Medicaid program, not just tinker at the edges," Colyer said, noting that it's still too early for his team to even outline its "basic tenets" for an overhaul. "We're going to be breaking out into lots of small groups that can talk about — flesh out — ideas."