In GOP race for governor, Barnett challenges Colyer’s claims of KanCare savings

photo by: Peter Hancock

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett holds a news conference Tuesday, July 3, 2018, to challenge Gov. Jeff Colyer's claim that the privatized Medicaid program known as KanCare has saved the state more than $2 billion.

TOPEKA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett on Tuesday challenged incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer’s claim that the state’s privatized Medicaid program known as KanCare, which Colyer largely designed, has saved taxpayers more than $2 billion.

At a news conference, Barnett pointed to a report in April from the Legislature’s own Division of Post Audit which said data about the KanCare program was so poor that it was impossible to tell whether any savings had occurred.

“In April, Legislative Post Audit was asked to evaluate the program for cost and quality, and they couldn’t do either because the data is so poor,” Barnett said.

In 2013, under then-Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas fully privatized its Medicaid program, turning over the responsibility of paying claims to three private insurance companies known as Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, which are paid a flat, per-person rate to manage the care of roughly 400,000 Kansans enrolled in Medicaid and the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The idea was that under managed care, those people would receive more home- and community-based services and thus would be more likely to have regular checkups and preventive care, thus avoiding more costly emergency room visits.

Pregnant women and children have been served through managed care for years, under a program formerly known as HealthWave. But KanCare took that a step further by expanding it to seniors and disabled individuals — virtually everyone in the system other than those in state institutions.

Colyer has been making the claim of $2 billion in cumulative savings at several campaign stops recently, including one in mid-June, which was reported by the Hutchinson News.

It is based, at least in part, on a study released in November 2016 by Leavitt Partners, a consulting firm hired by the three MCOs that currently administer KanCare. At the time that study was released, Leavitt estimated that the state had spent $1.7 billion less on its Medicaid program than it would have under a traditional Medicaid fee-for-service payment model.

Barnett, however, said that study used inflated estimates of how much Medicaid would have cost. He also said the $2 billion estimate includes federal funds, which pay for about 56 percent of the cost of Medicaid in Kansas.

But in an email statement, Colyer’s spokesman, Kendall Marr, defended the statement, saying, “Study after study has indicated KanCare has saved state and federal taxpayers money while also increasing access to primary care.”

Barnett is running as the lone moderate for the GOP nomination against conservatives Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer. Also in the Republican race is Patrick Kucera, of Shawnee, who describes himself as the “Entrepreneurial Evangelist,” and high school student Tyler Ruzich, of Prairie Village.

Of the major GOP candidates, Barnett and Colyer are both physicians, but they differ sharply on a number of health care-related issues, including whether the state should expand its Medicaid program as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Barnett has openly endorsed such an expansion, while Colyer and the two other conservatives strongly oppose the idea.


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