Politics & Government

Senator: Cut Medicaid for hepatitis C patients who drink alcohol, go off meds

The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA – Medicaid recipients being treated for hepatitis C who drink alcohol or go off their medication would lose coverage under a recommendation passed by a legislative panel Tuesday.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, proposed that the state not cover high-cost medications for hepatitis C patients who don’t comply with treatment requirements. The proposal came toward the end of an all-day meeting of the KanCare Oversight Committee.

The seven-member committee passed the motion on a voice vote. The panel’s two Democrats, Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, and Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, voted against it.

“Put me down as a ‘no’ for killing people,” Ward said after the vote.

Ward said Denning’s proposal would act as a death sentence for someone with hepatitis C, a liver infection. He said the vague wording would give the private insurance companies that provide the state’s Medicaid services an incredible amount of power.

Republicans said the issue was cost: The state should not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on someone who does not follow treatment requirements by going off their medication or drinking alcohol.

“If we have patients that are abusing an $80,000 drug, then there have to be consequences,” Denning said, contending that money could be used to treat children instead.

Kelly said lawmakers were headed down a dangerous path. She asked: If a person who received a liver transplant then drank, would lawmakers demand to take back the liver?

Asked by a colleague what would make a person non-compliant, Denning said that he was not a doctor and couldn’t name everything, but he cited alcohol abuse as an example.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said people have other options besides Medicaid and that a person using alcohol or drugs had made a choice.

The committee also adopted other recommendations brought by Denning concerning prescription drugs, including that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment begin using step therapy, which would mean Medicaid patients would have to try more cost-effective treatments first and only be prescribed more expensive treatments if the other treatments fail. Current law forbids step therapy, according to KDHE.

The proposals could not be enacted without approval of the Legislature. They go next to KDHE, which will decide whether to recommend them to lawmakers. The Legislature reconvenes in the second week of January.