TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback is expressing disappointment over the significant under-counting of Kansas’ Medicaid backlog as the state and a contractor battle over who bears blame for the error.
The number of unprocessed Medicaid applications stood at approximately 3,500 people until the state acknowledged earlier this month the actual figure was more than 15,000.
In a brief interview, Brownback reiterated the steps the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is taking to whittle down the backlog, such as retaining temporary staff who had been slated for release. He said he isn’t pleased by the setback.
“It is frustrating, and it’s frustrating to people we’ve put on, additional people, to get that backlog worked down,” Brownback said. “I was talking to the secretary (of KDHE) the other day about that, and we’re in communication with (the federal government) about it.”
The Republican governor defended KanCare’s overall performance. KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, grew out of Brownback administration efforts during the governor’s first term. The state entered into large contracts with several companies to provide managed care.
The state has been moving forward for several years on an electronic eligibility system, though the project has seen delays and cost overruns. In the past year, the state moved some program administration to KDHE, which operates a “clearinghouse” facility in Topeka to wade through Medicaid applications.
The backlog in unprocessed applications arose after difficulties with the transition to KDHE and the clearinghouse.
“KanCare has overall worked very well,” Brownback said. “Not that it hasn’t had difficulties, but overall I’ve been very pleased with the program, but this is something we thought we were getting the number down much faster — we’re getting the number down, but it’s not as fast as it needs to go.”
Kansas has told federal officials the low-ball backlog figure came because of an error by Accenture, the company that holds the contract on the electronic eligibility system. According to the state, Accenture used an incorrect method to create reports on the backlog, resulting in the falsely low number.
Accenture disputes this, however. It said in a statement it never provided the state with inaccurate data.
“Accenture continues to meet all of our contractual obligations for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment,” the company said last week. “We did not provide KDHE with inaccurate information.”
However, neither the state nor Accenture so far has provided evidence backing their assertions.
Asked if it could supply evidence to back up its statements, Accenture spokeswoman Deirdre Blackwood directed questions to Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. De Rocha declined to provide further information regarding the state’s accusation that Accenture erred, only saying the company provided inaccurate information.
Kansas has said it will withhold a $750,000 payment to Accenture over misreporting of the backlog.
The disclosure of the backlog error came at a sensitive time for KanCare. Brownback cut Medicaid provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent in May to help balance the state budget. The reduction raised fears some providers might be driven out of the low-margin business or curtail the number of Medicaid patients they see.
Advocates for Medicaid patients also worry about future cuts to providers. In a letter to lawmakers Friday, the KanCare Advocates Network said waiting lists remain “unconscionably long” for those waiting for home and community-based services.
Providers also are being stretched dangerously thin because of bureaucracy and budget cuts, the advocates warn. Access to care has become a growing and critical issue, they say.
“KanCare was urgently rolled out with many promises, but three years later it has failed to achieve any of those goals,” the letter said.