There have been plenty of problems and frustrations. No one denies it.
But as Gov. Sam Brownback’s Medicaid makeover entered its fourth week, administration officials, some legislators and a variety of others involved with KanCare said they thought the massive changes underway in the $3.2 billion program so far have gone smoother than many expected.
KanCare, which launched Jan. 1, moved virtually all the state’s 380,000 Medicaid enrollees into health plans run by three of the nation’s largest managed-care companies: United HealthCare, Amerigroup and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene.
“I think we’re in the growing-pains phase,” said Mike Larkin, executive director of the Kansas Pharmacists Association, which months ago began preparing its members for the changes. “Some of our members are getting different answers on things, depending on who they call.”
Because people tend to see their pharmacists more often than other medical providers, pharmacies were among the first to file claims and otherwise deal directly with the new system.
Larkin said he expected to be “inundated” with calls from members dealing with KanCare problems the first week of January.
“I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t,” he said. “I think we were more prepared than maybe some other folks for the things that are coming down. There are some stipulations of the contract that the state signed with the MCOs (managed care organizations) that we’re still waiting to see fruition on…but as far as the pharmacies go, there are some frustrations but for the most part, I suppose it could be worse.
“I’m looking at mid-February. I was talking with a legislator and we agreed that if Feb. 15 comes and some things haven’t settled down, then we’ve probably got a problem,” Larkin said.
State officials anticipated there would be difficulties during the transition and took some steps to ease them.
First 90 days
For the first 90 days of KanCare — and in some instances longer — the state is requiring the insurance companies to comply with previously established "plans of care" for Medicaid clients in order to minimize disruptions to the patient's usual or expected services.
Also for the first 90 days, the state is requiring the companies to reimburse Medicaid services given by any medical provider regardless whether the provider has signed a contract joining the companies' service networks.
As the program's launch date approached, state and MCO officials began holding daily 9 a.m. teleconferences with Medicaid providers and beneficiaries to help troubleshoot problems as they arose.
State and insurance company officials answer questions from callers, make note of problems and sometimes post them to their respective online “issues logs," though state officials concede many problems marked "resolved" on the the logs have simply been brought to the attention of someone to work on, rather than fixed.
The most frequent, single response to callers during the daily calls has been “can we get back to you on that?” or words to that affect. But many callers also seem to go away satisfied with the answers they get.
One of those who called in recently was Vicki DeStefano of Fairway. She telephoned on behalf of her 53-year-old brother, Mike, who receives Medicaid-funded assistance after suffering a serious brain injury in a 2006 motorcycle accident that left him mostly unable to move or speak and eating through a tube.
He needs attention around the clock, she told KHI News Service in a later telephone interview, and before November there were six people being paid, not including her, to help care for him at different times of the day or week.
Now there is only one person to help her with her brother. The others left because they stopped getting paid. DeStefano said she is paying the remaining person out of her own pocket because some things she simply cannot do by herself.
She said the agency that handled the payments to the workers told her they weren’t getting reimbursed by the managed care companies. But DeStefano said she was more upset with the intermediary Financial Management Services (FMS) agency (commonly referred to as a “payroll agent”) than she was with United HealthCare, because the company seemed to be trying harder to help her and her brother.
She said her prior experiences with state officials and a succession of its contracting payroll agents had left her exhausted, frustrated and ready for any kind of change in the system.
“We really needed a change,” she said. “Whenever you have the government doing something, it’s a mess. I think we need a change, I just don’t think they did the research to make it go right…The state just dumped it on to all these MCOs and didn’t do anything to help them.”
DeStefano said she was alarmed by how unprepared many of the MCO employees seemed to be, but she said she expected things would only get better. She said she was impressed that the day after she called in to complain about her problems, a United representative called on her to see about fixing them.
Her problems weren’t resolved yet, she said, “but even when they can’t resolve it right away, they’re trying.”
She said she never got quick responses from the state, so the new attention from the MCO was welcome.
Cathy Harding is executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which represents the state’s safety-net clinics. She also said she was pleased by the responsiveness of the MCOs.
“I think most people expected it wouldn’t be possible to implement a huge program like this without bumps in the road,” Harding said. “The thing I was concerned with (going in) was how responsive would the MCOs be when we bring them problems. In that regard, we have been extremely pleased. All three MCOs, when we bring things to their attention they have literally jumped right on it.”
Harding said there were ongoing transitional problems but that she expected things could be running smoothly within three months.
“This is a guess on my part,” she said, “but given how things are working at this point in terms of addressing issues, I’d be a little surprised if we don’t have all these kinks worked out in three months. Three months for a program of this size is certainly not bad. We’ll see.”
Among the frequent complaints or questions from Medicaid providers during the state’s daily teleconferences have been those about claims rejections or delays in payment from the MCOs.