By Brent D. Wistrom, The Wichita Eagle, September 19, 2011
TOPEKA | Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday described a bleak future for Kansas’ Medicaid program unless reforms drive down costs and people begin making healthier lifestyle choices.
Without changes, he said, rapidly growing costs will overwhelm Kansas and affect funding for things such as K-12 education.
Colyer said Medicaid, the health program for low-income residents, should do what some insurance companies do and reward patients who quit smoking, work their way out of obesity and take their medicine. And the 40-year-old program should work to transition users to private health insurance.
"This (Medicaid) is the most complex thing I’ve seen in government," he said. "And we aren’t going to fix it in one year."
Colyer’s call for reform and improved services comes when federal funding is expected to decrease. But some said Colyer’s descriptions of cutting costs and improving services are too rosy.
"I don’t see how it can possibly work in any way, shape or form," said Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican.
Reitz, a physician, said he works with patients who need a lot of care. If they don’t have adequate finances for proper care, they’ll be in emergency rooms, which is part of the disaster the state is trying to avoid.
"You’re never going to cut medical costs down, you know that, you know that," Reitz said to Colyer, another physician.
Speaking to a joint legislative committee, Colyer said federal cuts to Medicaid announced Monday translate to roughly $720 million in reductions to Kansas over several years.
He said ideas gathered from more than 1,200 people in four public forums on Medicaid reform this summer — plus concepts used in other states — show Kansas needs to create a safety net for its neediest, a system that links outcomes to price, provides employers with incentives to hire people with disabilities and offers people to coordinate patients’ care.
Reitz, a member of the oversight committee, said there’s no way the state can improve while drastically cutting funds.
"It won’t happen. It can’t happen," he said. "If it does, you’re going to have people marching on the statehouse, tearing the place apart, saying, 'We can’t go on this way. Try something else.'"
Colyer disagreed, arguing that "economic forces do work and do force us into better patient care." He used laptop computers as an example, noting they are cheaper now and have better technology.
Colyer said the state can save money by having someone coordinate health care for patients with serious problems.
"If we can navigate them through, you can save money on not institutionalizing them," he said.
Reitz said he and other doctors already help their patients manage their care.
To reach Brent D. Wistrom, call 785-296-3006 or send email to email@example.com.