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Kansas issues new Medicaid contracts with emphasis on expanding care, maternal needs

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Kansas issues new Medicaid contracts with emphasis on expanding care, maternal needs

May 16, 2024 | 10:18 am ET
By Rachel Mipro
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Kansas issues new Medicaid contracts with emphasis on expanding care, maternal needs
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KDHE Secretary Janet Stanek said the Medicaid procurement process involved input from multiple advocacy groups and others involved in Kansas health care. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas health officials have selected three health care insurance companies to manage the state’s privatized Medicaid system after conducting the selection process for the first time in six years.

These managed care organizations will serve KanCare, the state’s system for the federal Medicaid program. In a Tuesday contract announcement, Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials said the determination process focused on the needs of the 458,000 Kansans enrolled for services.

“This was a major team effort, with a constant focus and alignment on achieving our vision for KanCare,” said KDHE Secretary Janet Stanek. “ ‘Partnering together to support Medicaid members in achieving health, wellness and independence for a healthier Kansas.’ We look forward to our continued collaboration with the MCOs.”

Bids for these contracts opened in October 2023, attracting seven candidates. The contracts will last from Jan. 1, 2025, to Dec. 31, 2027.

Incumbents Sunflower Health Plan and United Healthcare Community Plan had their bids accepted, along with one new organization, Healthy Blue. The department described Healthy Blue as a collaboration of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.

KanCare provides health care services to low-income families, including thousands of elderly Kansans, low-income children and people with developmental, intellectual or physical disabilities.

The system’s been in place since former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback privatized Medicaid in 2013 and handed out no-bid contracts through executive order. Contracts were set for renegotiation in 2022, following a 2018 re-procurement process, but the GOP-controlled Legislature pushed through a one-year contract extension to give Republican candidate Derek Schmidt a chance to install new deals if elected governor.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly won reelection instead, making this cycle’s contracting process the first held under a Democrat governor. The governor’s office declined to comment on the MCOs.

April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said the changes would help the health care system.

“We are encouraged by the improvements that were included in the new MCO contracts, including increasing the recruitment and retention of providers and expanding access to services in rural and frontier counties of the state,” Holman said. “Both of these improvements are critical to the continued wellbeing of Kansans and our state’s health care system.”

Currently, the three KanCare insurance companies operating Medicaid health services are Sunflower State Health Plan, United Healthcare and Aetna Better Health of Kansas.

Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services secretary Laura Howard said the state used input from advocacy organizations, KanCare members and providers to shape the contract procurement process, known as a “request for proposal” or “RFP.”

“That feedback was invaluable and is reflected in many of the key enhancements we incorporated into the RFP,” Howard said.

KDHE said the new contracts would focus on provider recruitment and retention, expanding access to services in rural areas and improving prenatal and postpartum care.