Dissolution of health board to cut 71 jobs

TOPEKA —"Let the circus begin," said a lobbyist waiting for Monday's Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing on Gov. Sam Brownback's executive order to eliminate the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

The order to abolish the $1.5 billion agency and move its duties and responsibilities to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment takes effect July 1 unless either side of the Legislature intervenes. The order will eliminate 71 jobs and give Brownback final authority of the department that oversees Medicaid, Healthwave, Medikan and the state employee health benefits plan.

Landon J. Fulmer, Brownback's policy director, characterized the change as a pilot project that aims to bring down costs. "It gives the governor a clear chain of command. If we don't change course, Medicaid is going to eat our lunch. It's already eating our breakfast," he said.

Ways and Means member Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said there still are a lot of questions about the proposal. "There are questions about the responsibilities and work that the insurance commissioner has done in responding to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how the governor plans to address these additional responsibilities and additional complexities," Francisco said. "My question is, who's going to do the extra work?"

The Health Policy Authority was adopted on July 1, 2005, to oversee most of the state's health care spending.

"I remember quite vividly being in the Supreme Court room when the new authority was formed," says Senate Majority Whip Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita. "Legislators wanted more control. It, too, was an effort to control costs."

"The health care climate has changed so dramatically since then," Fulmer says. "We're staring at a big cliff. We need someone at the top of the mountain to take responsibility."

The hearing will continue Wednesday.