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Originally published Aug. 30, 2011 at 4:11 p.m., updated Aug. 31, 2011 at 5 a.m.
TOPEKA Kansas officials have inked a contract for a new Medicaid eligibility system that they said will provide needy Kansans speedy, one-stop sign-up for Medicaid and other social services while reducing the potential for welfare fraud.
The deal for the $135 million computerized system is with Accenture, the world's largest consulting firm. Accenture is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, but has multiple offices in the United States, including one in Overland Park, according to the company's website.
The project to modernize the state's Medicaid eligibility system has been off and on since at least 2009. The last three administrations have acknowledged that the state's welfare enrollment system is antiquated, inefficient and problem-prone.
In a recent, earlier incarnation, the replacement project was known as the K-MED or Kansas Medical Eligibility Determination System.
But today, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, during a joint news conference with Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and Rob Siedlecki, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, announced the new system will henceforth be called KEES, or the Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System.
"This is a redo or rethinking of what was known as K-MED," Colyer said. "The old K-MED system has gone away."
But apart from the name change, it wasn't immediately clear what was changed in the request for proposal, or RFP, for the project that officials said was answered by five firms before being awarded to Accenture.
Officials continued to tout the expected benefits of a streamlined enrollment system for social services.
Moser said once the system is operational, Medicaid and other social service applications could be processed within a day of an applicant going online and providing correct and verifiable information about themselves. With the current, paper-based system, applicants might wait up to 45 days before they are approved and enrolled in a benefit program.
But officials mostly emphasized the new system's potential for deterring welfare fraud through improved and faster record keeping and cross-checked verifications of data among multiple agencies. That retooled emphasis was an apparent nod to conservative legislators who have signaled they would likely oppose the upgrade if it in any way advanced federal health reform or drew down federal dollars intended to help implement the Affordable Care Act.
"I believe we'll be able to save millions," as a result of the fraud deterrence, Colyer said.
No exchange commitment
The officials also made a show of disassociating the system from the federal health reform law, saying the mix of federal and state dollars that will pay for the project were not tied to it. They said federal officials have agreed to pay for about $60 million of the project's $85 million development costs, leaving the state to pick up the rest.
They also said the new system would in no way commit the state to participating in a health insurance exchange. One of the major provisions of the reform law is the creation of online insurance clearinghouses where Medicaid applicants and those eligible for subsidies for private insurance can find coverage.
The health reform law requires each state to have an exchange operating by Jan. 1, 2014; the federal government will operate exchanges for states that don't create their own.
State Medicaid systems will be required to "integrate" with the exchanges. The federal law also will greatly expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid. In Kansas, an additional 130,000 people are expected to gain access to the program. Currently, more than 300,000 Kansans are enrolled in Medicaid.
As recently as four weeks ago, state officials were planning to use almost all of a $31.5 million federal exchange grant to help pay for the Medicaid eligibility system, which they said also could serve as the technological backbone for a state-operated exchange.
Back on track
Gov. Sam Brownback earlier this month turned back the so-called "innovator" grant, saying future federal funding was uncertain and Kansas shouldn't be bound by the strings attached to the funding. That reversed some of his earlier statements and was in step with a policy plank adopted by the central committee of the Kansas Republican Party.
That, at least for a while, put into question the future of the new Medicaid sign-up system.
The question apparently was put to rest when the contract with Accenture was signed on Monday.
Officials said about $85 million of the project cost would be for "build-out" of the system. The remaining $50 million would cover the costs of operating it for five years.
Accenture is expected to have between 50 and 75 employees working in Topeka as the system is built, officials said. And by the end of fiscal 2013 will have about 35 people operating the system from a Topeka office.
"These will be high paying system development and analyst positions," said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, an administration spokesperson. "Accenture also has committed to having an intern program to provide learning opportunities for students studying computer science and other technical disciplines at Kansas universities."
Colyer also said, in response to questions from reporters, that Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger was free to move forward with her efforts to plan for a health insurance exchange but that implementation of anything dealing with the Affordable Care Act would not happen during the Brownback administration until after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the law's constitutionality.
Waiting for the court
"The insurance commissioner can do what she wants to prepare," Colyer said. "But implementing it is not something we'll be doing before the Supreme Court rules."
In other news Tuesday:
Praeger's office announced postponement of a previously scheduled meeting of the insurance exchange working group's steering committee.
The meeting was set for Sept. 21 but was rescheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Ramada Inn Regency West ballroom in Topeka.
Insurance department officials said they had an opportunity to meet Sept. 21 with federal officials in Washington to discuss how to move forward regarding an insurance exchange.
"We would like to take this opportunity to meet directly with federal officials to receive a better understanding of our options going forward, whether the exchange is state-based or federally operated," said Cindy Hermes, a department spokesperson, in an e-mail to steering committee members and others.