Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday said that federal officials have given Kansas the go-ahead to implement the state's new Medicaid system known as KanCare on Jan. 1.
Under KanCare, nearly 400,000 Kansans will have their health care administered by for-profit managed care companies.
Brownback vowed that the new system will provide better health care more efficiently and reduce costs to taxpayers. Medicaid, funded through federal and state dollars, costs about $2.9 billion annually in Kansas.
"Instead of cutting services, cutting providers, we're adding. This is the way forward. You are going to see a lot of states doing this," he said.
But the proposal, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has its detractors.
Ernie Kutzley, advocacy director for AARP-Kansas, said he feared KanCare "could really harm the quality of care for seniors."
AARP and several organizations had asked for delays in implementation, saying that Brownback's timeline was too aggressive.
Kutzley also said given the state's precarious fiscal situation — tax cuts signed into law this year by Brownback will produce a $328 million budget shortfall next year — this wasn't the time to overhaul Medicaid.
"We really didn't think the state had the manpower and process in place to oversee this thing," he said.
"I'm disappointed," said Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a group of organizations that provides services to people with disabilities.
"The question will be how much oversight will the Legislature and the feds exercise to make sure that people covered by Medicaid are not harmed by this process," Laing said.
Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, agreed. "The federal government has determined today that Kansas is ready to move forward with KanCare, but what is less clear is whether children and families are ready for this transition.
"As KanCare unfolds, it will be important to monitor the impact it has on children’s access to health care coverage," Cotsoradis said.
But Brownback and his health care leaders said approval of KanCare by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides certainty for the low-income children, disabled and elderly Kansans served by Medicaid.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer vowed "a smooth transition for Kansans on Medicaid."
Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan said "continuity of care" provisions have been incorporated into the contracts with the managed care organizations to provide three more months after Jan. 1 for health care providers to get into the plan. The state will also have a KanCare ombudsman and consumer telephone hotlines.
The state awarded KanCare contracts in June to subsidiaries of Amerigroup Corp., based in Virginia Beach, Va.; Centene Corp., which has its headquarters in St. Louis; and United Healthcare, based in Minneapolis.
Each Medicaid consumer has been pre-enrolled in one of the plans and members have the opportunity before April 4 to switch to a different plan, officials said. KanCare continues current health care services, and adds heart and lung transplants, bariatric surgery and adult preventative dental services.
Advocates for people with developmental disabilities opposed KanCare and Brownback agreed to wait until 2014 to bring in their long-term services.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser, a family physician, said KanCare will save $1 billion over five years. Moser said the new model will provide a holistic approach to caring for patients. "Basically, this is great news," he said.