TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas is hunting for a new inspector general for its Medicaid program, more than three years after the office became vacant.
The inspector general is supposed to fight fraud within the $3 billion-a-year program that provides health coverage for the needy, but also see that the three private health insurance companies managing Medicaid for the state deliver the services they promise. The inspector general has the authority to audit Medicaid and its sister Children’s Health Insurance Program.
But the last inspector general, an ex-state legislator, stepped down in June 2014 amid questions about his qualifications. Lawmakers grew frustrated enough with the state Department of Health and Environment’s inability to fill the position that earlier this year they transferred the inspector general’s office to attorney general’s office.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last week that he’s launched a nationwide search for an inspector general that will continue “until a suitable candidate is identified.” Legislators increased his chances by boosting the job’s salary by about 60 percent and budgeted for three additional staff members.
“This is all about protecting Kansas taxpayer dollars and ensuring those most vulnerable Kansans get the services they deserve,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat serving on a legislative Medicaid oversight committee.
But Sen. Barbara Bollier, a fellow Republican from Mission Hills and a retired anesthesiologist, remains worried that the job still won’t be filled quickly.
“We just need somebody to be there,” she said.
Kansas provides coverage to about 378,000 poor, disabled and elderly residents, including poor children, under its Medicaid program. It turned over the program’s day-to-day operations to the three private health insurers in 2013, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has touted the renamed program, “KanCare,” as a big success that’s controlled costs while providing better care.
But legislators also have heard continual complaints from parents, advocates and health care providers that claims are too readily denied and services curtailed by the private contractors. Lawmakers created the inspector general’s office in 2007 to investigate such issues and recommend program improvements.
“We still want to make sure that the people are taken care of,” said Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican also serving on the legislative oversight committee. “I can’t think of a program that needs it more.”
The last acting inspector general was former state Rep. Phil Hermanson, a Wichita Republican who had no previous auditing experience. He lasted less than two months in the job and never assumed all of his duties because he wasn’t confirmed by the state Senate. At the time, the job paid $77,000 a year.
As the job remained open, lawmakers in both parties increasingly questioned whether an inspector general within the health department and appointed by its secretary could be truly independent. Legislators boosted the inspector general’s pay to about $123,000 a year, and Schmidt said he is “casting the net as wide as possible” to fill the position.
Former state Rep. Sean Gatewood, a Topeka Democrat who now is co-administrator of a network representing Medicaid participants, said moving the inspector general was “necessary no matter the administration.”
“Somebody has to be sort of outside of that contracting agency, monitoring those contracts to make sure that the taxpayers are getting what they pay for,” Gatewood said.
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