Archives: KHI News Service

On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

KanCare MCOs gain access to state’s drug monitoring system

Insurance companies say information will help them track prescription abuse, reduce costs

By Andy Marso | January 26, 2015

The three insurance companies administering Kansas Medicaid now have direct access to the state’s prescription drug tracking system.

Officials from the companies told legislators Monday that the move will enhance patient care by allowing them to more quickly identify prescription drug abuse.

“We take this very, very, very seriously,” said Michael McKinney, CEO of Sunflower State Health Plan. “If you check with your hospitals, you’ll find that the most common overdose in emergency rooms is prescription drugs. It’s not street drugs.”

The Kansas Board of Pharmacy manages the Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances, or K-TRACS, program. K-TRACS allows doctors and pharmacists to access an online database that shows a patient’s prescription history.

Previously, Sunflower State and the other two managed care organizations (MCOs) that administer KanCare had to go through the pharmacy board to get information on how many prescriptions their consumers were getting and from how many doctors.

Debra Billingsley, the board’s executive director, said giving the KanCare companies direct access will simplify the process for all parties involved.

“It will make things easier for us because it will take a lot less of our staff time, and it will be easier for the MCOs,” she said.

McKinney said that in addition to keeping consumers safer, direct access to the information also will help MCOs curb costs by keeping consumers out of the ER.

“The drugs themselves are often cheap,” McKinney said. “But what they go through when they take too much of them is not cheap, and it’s certainly not safe.”

Tim Spilker, CEO of United Healthcare Community Plan of Kansas, which is another KanCare MCO, said his company takes the responsibility for privacy of the K-TRACS data very seriously. He also said the change will make it easier for the company to fulfill its mission of taking care of every aspect of consumers’ health, including identifying and properly treating physical ailments and behavioral problems like addiction.

“We appreciate the fact we have access,” Spilker said. “This is really another data point we can use.”

Billingsley said deaths from prescription drug overdose in Kansas had increased from 3.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 9.6 per 100,000 today.

She said part of the problem is that Kansas borders Missouri, which is the only state that does not have a prescription drug monitoring program.

But part of the problem is that within the state, some health providers who used K-TRACS to identify patients who were seeking drugs from multiple physicians simply stopped treating those patients rather than getting them help.

Billingsley said her agency is collaborating more with other state agencies to try to follow up with those patients.

“Some of these patients can be identified and steered toward drug treatment,” she said. “So they don’t just fire them as a patient and then they become some other doctor’s problem, or they just go to Missouri.”