Politics & Government

Brownback proposes increasing hospital tax, restoring earlier cuts

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Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he supports restoring a 4 percent cut to KanCare reimbursement rates if the Legislature will instead increase the provider tax, a fee to hospitals.

To balance the state’s budget, Brownback announced a 4 percent payment cut to certain KanCare providers that began July 1.

KanCare is the state’s privatized Medicaid program that began in 2013. Medicaid is the government insurance program for people with low incomes or who are disabled.

“At the end of the 2016 legislative session, we worked with healthcare organizations to find a solution to offset proposed cuts to KanCare reimbursement by implementing an increase in the provider tax,” Brownback said in a statement.

“Those negotiations were not successful, resulting in implementation of a 4 percent cut in reimbursement rates. We will continue those efforts in the next legislative session. I look forward to working with the legislature to restore the 4 percent cut in reimbursement rates and will call on them to pass an increase in the provider tax.”

The federal government gives Kansas $1.28 for every dollar the state spends on Medicaid, so when Brownback cut provider rates he also triggered a more than $70 million cut to federal aid. Restoring the cut would allow the state to recoup some of that money.

David Jordan, executive director for the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said it seemed as if Brownback “is playing a shell game with the provider cuts. … As a result of the governor’s failed tax policies, he’s looking for any way to find savings. Unfortunately, that’s the provider cuts coming on the backs of consumers, providers and our vulnerable hospitals.”

It seems like the governor is playing a shell game with the provider cuts.

David Jordan, executive director for the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas

The Alliance for a Healthy Kansas – along with the Kansas Hospital Association and other health-related organizations – has pushed for Medicaid expansion as a way to alleviate the state’s budget issues.

Brownback’s statement Wednesday noted the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals.

“Our rural hospitals face many challenges, caused primarily by declining Medicare reimbursement rates. Initiatives like our Rural Health Working Group are looking at the broader issues facing rural healthcare and identifying solutions that will be presented in early 2017,” the statement said.

Cindy Samuelson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association, said she appreciates the governor’s acknowledgment of negative consequences from the 4 percent cuts to the state’s health care system.

But, she said: “I do think this is another example of the lack of understanding of how interdependent the Kansas health care system is. He’s talking about taxing the very entities he’s proposing he wants to help. It’s inconsistent, and it makes the problem worse.”

The Kansas Hospital Association commissioned a study last year that said Medicaid expansion could not only be budget neutral, but could be a moneymaker for Kansas. Brownback and other Republican leaders disputed that.

Canceled meetings

The state had planned to host five public forums in the coming week to hear public comment from community members about the 4 percent cuts and to offer more information about the cuts.

The forums were set to start Monday in Overland Park, with stops in Topeka, Wichita, Pittsburg and Dodge City.

In lieu of the meetings, the state issued a statement saying the public can submit comments via mail or e-mail at KanCareReductions@kdheks.gov. It said it would send a letter with information about the cuts to recipients instead.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said KanCare knows that consumers are angry and upset about the program.

“I think they’ve got the message loud and clear,” Denning said. “If they’re going out in the community, taking resources from managing the program, going out to get their butts kicked, they ought to just stay home and start cleaning up all the issues they have and getting the program to run a little smoother.”

I think they’ve got the message loud and clear. If they’re going out in the community, taking resources from managing the program, going out to get their butts kicked, they ought to just stay home and start cleaning up all the issues they have and getting the program to run a little smoother.

Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park

Angela de Rocha, KanCare’s spokesperson, said sending letters to KanCare consumers is a more direct approach than asking people to attend the public meetings. Those letters are being sent out Thursday. This method more thoroughly and effectively meets the state’s obligation to keep KanCare consumers informed, de Rocha said in an e-mail.

Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, which is part of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, had a different take on the issue.

“I think that the state wanted to try to avoid a public display of people’s dissatisfaction with the KanCare program, so they canceled those meetings,” he said.

Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Eagle

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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