Rep. Brenda Landwehr, second from the left, and Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, center, sparred over whether delaying the negotiation process over the state’s Medicaid contracts would open the door to possible corruption. Opponents, like Wolf Moore, argue the passing the bill is the equivalent to a one year, no-bid contract extension for the three organizations overseeing KanCare. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Republican legislators moved Tuesday to delay negotiations of the nearly $4 billion contracts for insurance companies managing the state’s Medicaid system until 2023.
The bill blocks all requests for proposals for managed care organizations administering KanCare until at least Jan. 1, 2023. The GOP-controlled Legislature was eager to push the process of awarding the new KanCare contracts until January, after the gubernatorial election.
However, Democrats argued this move allowed no competition and no accountability over the three companies overseeing KanCare. They noted a previous version of the provision heard earlier this year lacked support beyond Republican legislators.
Opponents also argued the delay would force the equivalent of a no-bid, one year extension of contracts with Sunflower Health Plan, United Healthcare and Aetna Better Health of Kansas, even if it is not delineated in the bill.
“What we are doing here is altering the procurement process for just the three MCOs. Why would we do that?” said Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City. “That’s kind of a slippery slope. How many other times is the Legislature going to get involved in this? This is black and white. This is not right.”
Representatives approved the measure 84 to 38, following the lead of the 26 senators who cast affirmative votes before adjourning the regular session in early April. Gov. Laura Kelly has not yet expressed if she will act to veto the measure. The bill was a vote shy of a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
The bill also contains an unrelated section limiting Kelly’s power to close or restrict capacity at Kansas churches during a state of emergency. Legislators combined both measures into the new bill during a conference committee last month.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, insisted the new language would not require an extension of current contracts and argued the proposal would ease concerns from the state’s Medicaid director.
She also questioned Kelly’s desire to have the KanCare system managed by nonprofit entities. She argued the current for-profit organizations overseeing KanCare have done a good job providing services.
“I don’t care if they are profit or nonprofit,” Landwehr said. “What I care about is the citizens that we serve get their services and they get them without interruption. That’s why I’m here.”
Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, called into question Kelly’s handling of previous RFPs and issues in other departments. He lambasted the governor for her handling of the strain placed on the state’s beleaguered unemployment system and said he could not be sure she would manage this better.
Tarwater also noted that Nebraska put out a similar request for proposal a few weeks ago with a deadline of the end of the year.
“It’s a simple process,” he said. “It can be done in a shorter time period, and it can be done properly.”
Kelly is running for reelection in 2022 and should she lose, control over these KanCare contracts would likely go to presumptive Republican opponent Derek Schmidt. Schmidt, the state’s attorney general, previously weighed in on the issue, saying the Legislature did have the authority to delay this process.
Rep. John Carmichael, who previously ripped this tactic as a corrupt, “pay-to-play” scheme, asked lawmakers to remember the 2014 investigation into whether KanCare contributors paid off lawmakers.
“Where did this idea come from? Who is the proponent of this idea?” the Wichita Democrat asked. “No one can explain a good, legitimate reason to do this.”
House and Senate leadership have denied any misconduct in seeking to delay the contracts.
Carmichael also argued the Kansas constitution already enshrined the ultimate right to practice religion and passing the provision barring the governor from closing churches would simply be duplicative.
However, House majority leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said the governor “closed” churches early in the pandemic, thus requiring this measure. Kelly didn’t close churches, but did issue an executive order limiting mass gatherings in houses of worship.
“It’s important for us to do this because she did not listen to the constitution,” Hawkins said. “Maybe she’ll listen to the statue, maybe she won’t, but it will be in two places now.”
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