Politics & Government

Kansas lawmakers reject call for special investigation of KanCare allegations

An oversight committee voted Tuesday not to move forward with a special investigation into whether the state’s KanCare providers are meeting the terms of their contracts and whether improper influence played a role in those contracts.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a member of the KanCare Oversight Committee, had asked the committee to recommend to the Legislature the formation of a special committee with subpoena power. The motion failed 6-3 on party lines.

Ward’s request was based on news reports of an FBI investigation into KanCare and on a pending federal lawsuit brought by the former vice president of one of the KanCare companies, Sunflower State Health Plan. The former executive alleges she was fired for raising concerns that the company was violating its contract with the state.

The suit was filed in October. Ward said lawmakers should not wait for the matter to play out in court before investigating.

“If they’re violating the contracts, people are being harmed and right now. Why would we wait for a legal, judicial process when we have the ability through our contracts to investigate?” Ward said in a brief interview before introducing the motion.

Miranda Steele, spokeswoman for Sunflower, said the company would not comment on a pending legal matter.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said the Legislature didn’t have any business looking into the allegations in the lawsuit, which he called a personnel issue.

He also voiced strong opposition to investigating whether pay-to-play influence played a role in the awarding of KanCare contracts, something that has been alleged by former Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, who said in October that he had been interviewed by the FBI.

“To circle wagons on an allegation that may not have ever even happened – the election’s over,” Denning said. “I just don’t know if we have enough information to even go down some road that’s endless. If the FBI is certainly looking at it, then they’re way better than us.”

Reps. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, and Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, echoed Denning’s sentiment, calling Ward’s request for an investigation premature.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said lawmakers had a responsibility to look into the matter.

“This is $3 billion we’re talking about,” Kelly said, referring to the cost of the Medicaid program. “And I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t at least want to have an investigation.”

Riley Scott, a lobbyist who works for Parallel Strategies, the firm mentioned in media reports about the possible FBI investigation, would not comment on Ward’s call for an investigation.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.