KHI News Service

Governor says he hopes clients are spared with coming Medicaid cuts

Goal is to find savings without diminishing services

By Mike Shields | July 06, 2011

Gov. Sam Brownback today said his administration will try to protect services to Medicaid beneficiaries even while making cuts in the program's spending.

"The end objective is to not cut any clients who are receiving Medicaid support," Brownback said while flanked by members of his cabinet at a press conference called to describe what his administration has done during its first six months. "That's what we want to try to protect is the people who need Medicaid support. That's the real ones we're trying to protect as much as possible."

Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health Environment, said the administration's goal is to curb Medicaid's costs while at the same time improving "health outcomes" for the program's beneficiaries.

"Better outcomes at lower cost"

"We truly believe there are probably some efficiencies and program designs that we should be implementing that can deliver better health outcomes at lower cost and that really is our goal going forward," Moser said, but noting that the efficiencies, "have to be impactful."

Meanwhile, none of the assembled officials would say there won't be future cuts in reimbursements to Medicaid providers.

Some top ranking officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services recently sent emails to some agency contractors warning of a pending 2.5 percent cut in their Medicaid reimbursements. Those cut apparently haven't happened yet, but neither Brownback nor SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki when asked directly about the cuts ruled out the possibility they are coming.

Both men said they were awaiting the conclusion of a series of public forums being staged by administration officials as they develop a plan for restructuring the Medicaid program.

The next forum is scheduled Thursday in Wichita, followed by another Friday in Dodge City. A final forum is to be held in Johnson County at a date not yet announced.

The administration's apparent goal, based on earlier statements from Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and other administration officials, is to find $200 million in cuts to the program in time for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, 2012. But officials have also said they want to make the cuts without diminishing direct services, a point repeated several times during the press conference.

"We're trying to get our administrative costs down and not hit the people being served," Brownback said.

The state's flexibility in redesigning its Medicaid program is limited because most of its costs are paid for by the federal government and with that aid comes an abundance of federal requirements about how the program is run. In other states where there have been major spending cuts, they have been accomplished largely through cuts in services, payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers or both.

Colyer, who is leading the administration's effort to remake Medicaid, has said he hopes to have a plan in hand by fall.

New jobs

In other news from the press conference:

The governor praised the merger of the Kansas Health Policy Authority with KDHE, saying it had produced $1 million in savings without diminishing services to Kansans.

"We've got to get our cost structure down but not our services delivery, he said. "That's tricky. It's difficult and that (merger) is an example of where we're getting that done."

The governor took credit for his administration helping to create 3,163 new, private-sector jobs since taking office.

"We can't keep moving forward as a state with a growing government and a shrinking private sector," he said. "That's not sustainable. Fixing that has been a high priority of this administration."

He also said 20 of 50 eligible counties had signed up for a new "rural opportunity zone" program that among other things is intended to reverse brain drain by forgiving the student loans of people who agree to move to the counties.

And two cabinet officials described their agencies' roles in enticing a new Mars candy-bar factory to Topeka. The governor said a couple more similar announcements soon would be made.

Changing the tax code

Brownback also pledged to redo the state's tax code.

"To grow the state long-term, we need a fundamentally new tax code that rewards investment and makes us more competitive globally for entrepreneurs and capital investment," he said. "We just have to have a more competitive tax code. We have lost citizens to every surrounding state except to Nebraska. Nebraska is the only neighboring state with a higher tax code than Kansas."

He said within a few weeks he will announce an advisory group to study the tax code. It will be led by Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan.

Brownback also praised state agencies for their quick responses to the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo. in May and said they also are keeping a close eye on the possibility of continued Missouri River flooding perhaps into the fall.