Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a social worker and former legislator Friday as secretary of the state’s largest social services agency and outlined a plan to reorganize it and two other departments as part of a larger effort to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program.
Brownback announced Friday that former state Rep. Phyllis Gilmore will lead the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, starting Monday. She’s been the director of the regional SRS office in Kansas City following 11 years as executive director of the state board regulating social workers and other mental health professionals.
Gilmore, who turns 67 on Saturday, served six years in the Kansas House as a Republican, representing an Olathe district, before becoming the top staffer at the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board in 2000. She’s licensed as a specialist in clinical social work.
As an ex-House member, she’s likely to be less controversial than former SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki, who resigned at the end of last year. Siedlecki, who came to Kansas from Florida and returned there, faced criticism over his reorganization of SRS management the administration’s pursuit of faith-based social services initiatives.
Brownback said he’s known Gilmore since she served in the Legislature and “always appreciated her attitude, her heart.”
The governor also released the text of an executive order that he plans to sign Monday, shrinking SRS so that it can focus on services for children and families, removing it from involvement with the $2.9 billion Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to the poor, disabled and elderly.
The same order would move services for the disabled and mentally ill into the Department on Aging. The expanded agency also will pick up some regulatory responsibilities from the Department of Health and Environment, such as licensing nursing homes and psychiatric centers.
The health department would focus on the financial management of Medicaid, a job it picked up last year, when Brownback eliminated the Kansas Health Policy Authority.
Administration officials said the reorganization is important in overhauling Medicaid because it reduces the number of agencies handling parts of the program to two. Brownback must submit his order to the Legislature, but it will take effect July 1, unless one chamber votes to reject it within 60 days.
“It primarily provides some administrative efficiency,” said Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser.
Brownback’s administration plans to issue three contracts this year for the Medicaid program. Each contract would start, Jan. 1, 2013, and each company would operate statewide, so that Medicaid clients would have a choice of coverage.
The overhaul represents the first time the state has attempted to cover the disabled and the elderly, including those in nursing homes, with a managed-care program.
State medical programs provide services for an average of 380,000 people a month, and the bulk already receive state health coverage through private contractors. By bringing the disabled and elderly into a managed-care system, the state would add Kansans who need relatively expensive long-term services.
Administration officials have said the overhaul will lead to better coordination of services for high-need Medicaid participants and will eliminate duplication. But critics worry the administration is moving too quickly.
Kansas is hoping the federal government, which helps finance Medicaid, will waive some of its rules so that the contracts can cover the disabled and elderly and include financial incentives for improving services while controlling costs.