Independence of KanCare ombudsman questioned

KanCare ombudsman, James Bart.

KanCare ombudsman, James Bart. by Phil Cauthon

A week into major changes of the Kansas Medicaid program questions persist about whether a new consumer advocate will have the freedom and the resources to do his job.

Lawrence attorney James Bart was recently hired as the ombudsman for the new KanCare program being implemented by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Officials say the Jan. 1 expansion of managed care to include virtually all the state’s Medicaid enrollees is intended to slow the growth in Medicaid costs and improve the care provided to the more than 380,000 low-income, elderly and disabled Kansans in the program.

But some legislators and consumer advocates are questioning whether housing the ombudsman’s office in one of the state agencies responsible for KanCare implementation will hinder Bart’s effectiveness. They also question whether he will have sufficient resources to handle what could initially be large numbers of consumer complaints with the new system.

Bart, the only full-time employee in his office at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, was asked directly about the adequacy of his resources today during a meeting of the KanCare Specialized Care and Network Issues Workgroup in Topeka.

Sheldon Weigrau, a workgroup member, said if only 1 percent of the state's Medicaid enrollees filed complaints with the ombudsman, that would mean at least 10 complaints or problems a day to handle. He questioned whether Bart would have the resources to deal with that many of them, "otherwise, you're going to be overwhelmed."

Bart said 10 issues landed on his desk during the first working week of KanCare, which ended Jan. 4, and all had been resolved. And he said he had assurances from KDADS Secretary Shawn Sullivan that he could draw on on more of the agency's resources if needed.

"I can't solve every issue," Bart said. "But I can be the grease in the wheels. If it gets to the point where I feel I can't deal with the issues with the resources I've got, then I'll go get more resources."

Question of independence

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, is among the legislators asking questions about the ombudsman's office.

“It’s just beyond me to see how someone who is housed in an agency and who is dependent on that agency for the resources they need to do their job can be truly considered to be independent,” Kelly said after the issue was raised at a recent meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Policy Oversight.

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Tagged: Plan, medicaid, Health, brownback, ombudsman, kansas, Sunflower, United, kancare, Healthcare, Amerigroup

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