AP News

KanCare providers give state an employment boost


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three managed care organizations have increased their presence in Kansas with staff and facilities as they prepare to implement the KanCare system of Medicaid services.

The hiring of several hundred employees — and more likely in the coming years — is an unexpected bonus for Gov. Sam Brownback. New hires mean more revenue and economic activity in Kansas as the state aims to save nearly $1 billion over five years by curbing the growth in its share of health care costs.

"I didn't anticipate that, but I'm glad to hear it," Brownback said of the job creation. "I'm excited about what they've put forward. The idea that we're able to add preventive dental care and hold costs down over five years, I'm really excited about that."

The 395,000 KanCare participants will be assigned to one of the three managed care organizations — Amerigroup Corp., based in Virginia Beach, Va.; Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Centene Corp.; or United Healthcare, headquartered in Minneapolis.

The goal of the program, approved by the federal government in early December, is to provide poor and disabled Kansans with a broad array of services that take a proactive approach toward health care.

Kansas needed federal approval to move to the managed care model and gain flexibility in how health care is administered under national Medicaid guidelines. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services informed the state late Thursday that it approved the special terms and conditions of the waiver that were being worked out.

Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon, believe the new system can be more efficient and lower the state's costs without increasing eligibility requirements for recipients, such as income levels, cutting services or reducing provider reimbursement rates.

"Serving the needs of the whole person as well as ensuring long term fiscal sustainability for the state are the principles this plan is built upon," Colyer said.

UnitedHealth Group has plans to create more than 320 jobs to administer KanCare, spread statewide. That brings the company's total to more than 2,300 workers, plus more than 1,700 contractors.

Matt Stearns, spokesman for UnitedHealth, said the company was also making a three-year, $1.5 million investment in an employment program called Empowering Kansans. By partnering with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the program will bring various state and local researchers together to help KanCare recipients find meaningful employment.

"The program is designed to address both the need for employment among persons with disabilities in Kansas as well as employer needs to grow their businesses and the Kansas economy," Stearns said.

Amerigroup has hired more than 250 employees with a goal of 274 in the state. The company has a new office in Overland Park, which includes a customer contact center.

"As we grow in Kansas, we expect to expand our workforce," said Laura Hopkins, Amerigroup Kansas chief executive officer.

The Sunflower State Health Plan is headquartered in Lenexa, but has staff located statewide. The company plans to hire more than 230 employees initially to manage their contract, but a spokeswoman said the number could increase after Jan. 1.

"Our approach to business is based on the core belief that quality health care is best delivered locally," said spokeswoman Monica Stoneking.

Kansas officials have put in place safeguards to ease the transition to the new system, including allowing recipients to keep their current physician for 90 days, even if the doctors are not in provider networks. In some areas, the MCOs haven't been able to get enough specialty physicians to join the networks initially.

Similar provisions cover care received at out-of-network nursing homes, hospitals and community-based services designed to keep residents in their homes.

Most Kansans who receive state medical assistance are covered by managed care through private contractors, but the Medicaid overhaul represents the first time the state has tried to include relatively expensive, long-term care for the disabled and the elderly, including those in nursing homes.

The three companies offer competing plans, giving KanCare participants choices of services, such as preventive dental care for adults. Participants have until April to switch plans and the contracts offer incentives to the companies to pay claims quickly and improve overall health of program participants.


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