Gov. Brownback's overhaul of Medicaid in Kansas an issue as close re-election race nears end

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Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, speaks with supporters during a campaign stop, Wednesday morning, Oct. 29, 2014, in Emporia, Kan. (AP Photo/Emporia Gazette, Matthew Fowler)


Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, speaks with supporters during a campaign stop, Wednesday morning, Oct. 29, 2014, in Emporia, Kan. (AP Photo/Emporia Gazette, Matthew Fowler)


Paul Davis, left, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, speaks with Jerry, right, and Sharon Karr, center, during a campaign stop at the Lyon County Democrats headquarters, Wednesday morning, Oct. 29, 2014, in Emporia, Kan. (AP Photo/Emporia Gazette, Matthew Fowler)


Paul Davis, second from left, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, speaks supporters during campaign stop, Wednesday morning, Oct. 29, 2014, in Emporia, Kan. (AP Photo/Emporia Gazette, Matthew Fowler)


Supports fro Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas, carry yard signs through downtown Emporia, Kan., Wednesday morning, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Emporia Gazette, Matthew Fowler)


Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback talks with reporters as he starts a statewide bus tour with other prominent Republicans, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Brownback is facing new questions about his administration's overhaul of the Medicaid program in Kansas as his close race for re-election nears its end. (AP Photo/John Hanna)


TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback faced new questions Wednesday about his administration's overhaul of Medicaid in Kansas because of a federal lawsuit and a new study suggesting some disabled participants have experienced problems with services.

Brownback is locked in a close race with Democratic challenger Paul Davis ahead of Tuesday's election. The GOP incumbent has repeatedly described said the overhaul successfully improves health coverage for the needy and disabled while controlling the state's costs. Kansas turned Medicaid's administration over to three private health insurance companies in 2013.

A University of Kansas study on Wednesday reported the results from interviews with 105 disabled participants in the $3 billion-a-year program. The study said nearly half experienced some problems after the overhaul, such as being unable to access services or having benefits limited.

And a former vice president with the Sunflower State Health Plan filed a federal lawsuit earlier this week alleging that the company wrongfully fired her in January after she protested potentially improper moves designed to lower the company's costs in administering KanCare. Sunflower is a subsidiary of Centene Corp., based in St. Louis, and one of the three companies chosen to manage Medicaid.

Brownback said Wednesday that he didn't know anything about the lawsuit but said the Medicaid overhaul has allowed the state to cover more people while expanding their services. The program serves about 368,000 people.

"Overall, the experience has been good," Brownback told reporters in Topeka, before he and other prominent GOP officials started a four-day campaign bus tour of the state. "That's not to say it's perfect by any means, but it's good."

He'd previously faced questions about KanCare after several news organizations, including The Associated Press, reported in April and May that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was examining questions about how the management companies' contracts were awarded or whether lobbyists with ties to Brownback benefited. An ex-GOP legislator who broke with Brownback politically confirmed earlier this month that he'd been interviewed by the FBI in the spring and summer.

Brownback attributed the early reports to "a smear campaign." He said Wednesday the contracts were "completely publicly bid."

The University of Kansas study said that even as disabled Kansans reported problems, almost two-thirds those interviewed were satisfied or very satisfied with KanCare.

The federal lawsuit alleges that the former vice president, Jacqueline Leary, was fired after questioning a directive not to assign Medicaid participants to some physicians based on whether their institutions had contracts with Centene to be paid more than the standard rate for services.

"At the end of the day, this is a for-profit business," said Lewis Galloway, a Kansas City, Missouri, attorney representing Leary.

A Centene spokeswoman did not return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment.

But in a letter to Galloway in September, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Kansas City, Missouri, said "credible" Centene witnesses informed OSHA of job-performance issues involving Leary. She filed a complaint first with OSHA in April, and the agency dismissed it in September — something Galloway said is routine with wrongful termination complaints.

Davis told reporters after a Tuesday rally at the Statehouse in Topeka that there's "an increasing cloud" over KanCare.

"I think that we're going to have to really, really dig in deep to figure out what is going on with this," he said.


Online:

Davis campaign: http://www.davisforkansas.com/

Brownback re-election campaign: http://www.brownback.com/


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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