Insurance department applies for 'early innovator' grant

0 | Government, Legislature, Health Reform, Insurance, Medicaid-CHIP

— The Kansas Insurance Department has applied for a federal grant it hopes will give the state a head start in putting together its health insurance exchange.

The application was due by midnight Wednesday.

“We submitted it Tuesday afternoon,” said Linda Sheppard, director of the insurance department’s accident and health division.

“I’m glad we did because we’ve had to spend much of (Wednesday) responding to the error messages,” she said, noting the application was filed electronically via grants.gov.

“When you submit an application, you get an email back right away that says it’s been received,” Sheppard said. “Then, you start getting error messages, telling you what the problems are. It’s pretty normal stuff, but it’s stuff you have work through. It’s part of the process.”

The insurance department, Sheppard said, asked for $21 million.

Plans call for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarding five, two-year grants on or before Feb. 15, 2011.

The exchanges are critical components of the federal health reform passed earlier this year. They are to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014, creating an in-state clearinghouse where people can shop for government-certified health insurance.

Also, those who have qualifying income levels will be able to access federal subsidies through the exchanges.

The so-called early innovator grants are open-ended, meaning states were free to propose spending as much – or as little – as they deemed necessary.

Sheppard said the department’s application included letters of support from Gov. Mark Parkinson and Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. It did not include a statement of support from Gov.-elect Sam Brownback.

Earlier, members of the Joint Health Policy Oversight Committee agreed to encourage Brownback to consider expressing support for the grant.

Subsequently, Sheppard said, Praeger discussed the grant with members of the Brownback transition team.

“They indicated no particular (negative) concern about” applying for the grant, she said.

Brownback has said he will resist implementation of federal health reform.

The grant application, Sheppard said, included significant input from the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Efforts to include other states in the grant application were unsuccessful, she said, noting that in the August primary election Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed a measure meant to negate the federal requirement that people either buy health insurance or enroll in government-funded programs.

Discussions with Colorado, Sheppard said, broke down last month when Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marcy Morrison resigned. Her successor has yet to be appointed.

“Oklahoma,” she said, “just got through upgrading its (Medicaid) eligibility system so, right now, they’re of the opinion that they’ll be able to use what they have to support their exchange.”

Sheppard said discussions with Nebraska are ongoing.

“Our approach in this is that if we get the grant, we will offer, share and make available whatever we learn with any of our sister states, certainly,” Sheppard said.