The state’s $3 billion privatized Medicaid system has been without an inspector general for more than a year. The Kansas Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the position.
Senate Bill 182 as originally introduced would have changed the inspector general position for the program known as KanCare from classified to unclassified. Officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment requested that change to allow them to offer a higher salary because they said they were struggling to find qualified candidates at the classified salary level.
But Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, said discussion in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee she chairs revealed bipartisan desire to go a different route.
“We discovered that the position was no longer needed,” Pilcher-Cook said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, confirmed that she supported eliminating the position rather than making it unclassified. But she said that was more due to the effect of changing the job’s classification than a lack of need for KanCare scrutiny.
Unclassified state workers serve at the pleasure of the governor and can be fired for political reasons.
“If you unclassify that position, it provides even less protection from political pressure,” Kelly said.
Pilcher-Cook said that the new Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System computer program will alleviate some of the purpose for the inspector general position by preventing Medicaid fraud.
Kelly expressed skepticism on that front, pointing to a backlog of Medicaid applications that has grown since the long-delayed program went live last year.
“I’m not confident the KEES program has done much or will do much to streamline the application process or prevent abuse and fraud,” Kelly said.
The House has yet to consider elimination of the KanCare inspector general position.
Former legislator Phil Hermanson was appointed to the position in April 2014 but served only a few months before resigning amid questions about his background and qualifications.
The Senate also passed, 38-1, a bill that lessens penalties for first and second convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
When House Bill 2049 came over from the House last year, it also included a provision legalizing low-THC marijuana oil for treating seizures.
But the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee stripped out the oil provision.
“We just did not feel comfortable dealing with medical issues in a committee designed to deal with criminal justice issues,” said Sen. Greg Smith, a Republican from Olathe who chairs the committee.
An amendment to fully decriminalize marijuana possession offered by Sen. David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, failed 5-31. Haley was the lone “no” vote on the underlying bill.
Rep. John Rubin originally introduced the marijuana penalties bill as an attempt to ease a prison bed space crunch. The Senate attached a measure that would fill those newly emptied beds by increasing the penalties for burglary.
Rubin said Wednesday that the change may land the bill in a conference committee where House and Senate representatives will work on a compromise.