A Kansas legislative committee recommended Tuesday the full Senate confirm the attorney general’s nominee to serve as inspector general of the $3 billion Medicaid program, a decision ending a four-year period without independent oversight of the program serving 400,000 people.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt nominated Sarah Fertig in January after the 2017 Legislature decided to move the inspector general’s position from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to the attorney general’s office.

Lawmakers had responded to frustration with Gov. Sam Brownback’s refusal to fill the inspector general position at KDHE and to dedicate agency resources to examining Medicaid delivery. Brownback was responsible for privatizing Medicaid in 2013, triggering years of controversy about services provided through KanCare.

“I am honored and excited to begin the hard work of rebuilding this important oversight function,” Fertig said.

Fertig, of Lawrence, has been an assistant attorney general for seven years under Schmidt. She’s worked in the government counsel and legal opinion division. She is a certified inspector general and previously served in that role at the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority.

The Senate Confirmation Oversight Committee’s vote on Tuesday enables Fertig to being serving in the position pending a final vote by the Senate in 2019. The committee’s action will allow Fertig to secure office space and hire employees.

“While this process will take time,” Schmidt said, “the committee’s vote today is an important step toward establishing a professional, independent office of inspector general to improve operations of the state health care programs within the inspector general’s authority.”

A Kansas legislative committee raised the idea in 2005 of deploying a Medicaid inspector general. State lawmakers set up the office of inspector general two years later at the Kansas Health Policy Authority. KHPA was abolished in 2011 and the inspector’s job position was passed to KDHE.

In 2014, Brownback nominated former state Rep. Phil Hermanson, a Wichita Republican, to be KDHE’s inspector general for Medicaid. Hermanson began drawing a KDHE paycheck despite questions about his background and qualifications as well as lack of confirmation by the Senate.

Hermanson resigned under pressure from the inspector general’s post at KDHE, and Brownback never filled the position. By the time Gov. Jeff Colyer took office in 2018, the job had been moved to the attorney general’s office.