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Residents seek KanCare answers

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

For patients like Norma Brack, Medicaid coverage is important for health care access. So when Brack and her daughter, Rose M. Smilie, learned of Kansas' overhaul of the government-backed health program, they had some questions.

"I didn't know much about it, and I just didn't know where to go," Brack said.

The family was able to get their questions answered at a meeting striving to educate patients about KanCare, the state's new Medicaid program. The meeting, which began at 6 p.m. at Ramada in Hays, sparsely was attended, but Brack said it was well worth her time.

She has been traveling from her Ellis home to Hays twice each day to get epidural injections for severe back pain caused by degenerative discs.

The family was informed at the meeting the program offers mileage reimbursement for Medicaid-covered medical appointments, which was welcome news, Smilie said.

"We've spent $500 the last three or four weeks bringing her over for those shots twice a day," she said.

"We're hoping we can get some help," Brack said.

The Hays meeting was part of a statewide initiative to educate and answer questions about the new program, which is administered by three private insurance companies, Amerigroup of Kansas, Sunflower State Health Plan and United Healthcare of the Midwest.

Medicaid participants were assigned by the state to one of the policies and have until April 4 to switch plans. After the April 4 deadline, patients are locked in to their policies for a year, but will have the opportunity to change plans annually.

Patients should verify their preferred doctors are covered by their policy, said Effie Swanson, a policy and program analyst with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

If the doctor is not covered by that plan, patients can switch health plans or transition to another doctor within their desired network. Doctors also can choose to continue seeing out-of-network patients, but reimbursement rates for those patients will drop to 90 percent after April 4. Patients cannot be held responsible for that difference, Swanson said.

As the deadline approaches, many new doctors are being added to the three Medicaid networks daily, representatives from each company said during Monday's presentation.

KanCare was launched Jan. 1 with the goal of reducing the growth of state Medicaid costs, Swanson said when asked why the state was making such a significant change.

"We also think it helps coordinate all the care a person is receiving, which will lead to a better quality of care overall," she said. "The health plans understand all of the different services someone is needing because they are paying for all of them, with very few exceptions. They have a big picture idea of everything that person is receiving."

It remains to be seen whether the new program will achieve its goals, but some in attendance Monday evening voiced skepticism. John Bollig, Hays, said he doesn't see how the program run by for-profit companies will be able to save money without reducing services.

"We don't have enough money in the state, so therefore, due to certain people cutting budgets ... some people get benefits and other people don't," said Bollig, who is an advocate with Western Kansas Association on the Concerns of the Disabled. "This is a part of that -- disabled people and the poor are the losers in this whole situation."

State officials repeatedly have said the program will not reduce access to care.

While the evening session was geared toward patients, an afternoon meeting was for health care providers to ask questions and address concerns.

That meeting was attended by approximately 50 people, including Christy Keilman, patient accounts manager at Grisell Memorial Hospital in Ransom.

Keilman said there have been some issues through the transition, particularly regarding the hospital's skilled nursing facility. Some Medicaid payments have not yet been received for those patients, she said.

"Anytime there's this kind of transition, you will have some problems," she said. "It's going to take some time."

Patients needing more information about KanCare can visit www.kancare.ks.gov or call (866) 305-5147.