Gov. Sam Brownback (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and several top administration officials sought to dispel doubts about his plan to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program, declaring Thursday that the planned summertime reorganization of three government departments will improve services for the poor, disabled and elderly.

The conservative Republican governor plans to turn over management of the entire $2.9 billion-a-year Medicaid program next year to three private companies. Before then, in July, the state will reorganize its departments of Aging, Health and Environment and Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and the three agencies’ secretaries had a Statehouse news conference to publicize the coming reorganization, which will consolidate programs providing long-term care for both the elderly and disabled into one agency. The reorganization also will eliminate 10 administrative jobs and lead SRS to focus on services for families and children.

Administration officials said the agencies’ reorganization is a crucial to overhauling Medicaid to improve the coordination of care and overall health of participants and reduce the state’s costs. The overhaul has drawn bipartisan criticism, though the agencies’ reorganization attracted no significant legislative opposition.

Brownback issued an executive order in February to reorganize the agencies, and the state constitution gave legislators until last week to block it. They didn’t act before starting their annual spring break at the end of March.

“We want Kansas to work better,” Brownback said. “We want it to work more efficiency, so that we can afford the services that our vulnerable community needs.”

Brownback’s administration is reviewing bids from five companies that are all based outside Kansas or are affiliates or subsidiaries of out-of-state companies. The administration plans to issue three contracts this summer, with each company operating statewide so Medicaid participants have a choice of managed-care coverage.

Most of the 385,000 Kansans receiving state medical assistance have managed-care coverage through private contractors, but the overhauled Medicaid program, to be called KanCare, would be the first time Kansas has brought the disabled and elderly, including those in nursing homes, into such a system. An increased number of Kansans needing relatively expensive long-term care (LTC) services would be covered by managed care.

Legislators reconvene April 25, and advocates are expected to push lawmakers to “carve out” services for the developmentally disabled from the KanCare contracts. Advocates persuaded the Shawnee County Commission to adopt a resolution Thursday asking Brownback to reconsider the overhaul, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the news conference with the governor, three cabinet secretaries and Colyer, the architect of the Medicaid plan, shows Brownback’s administration understands it still faces a “hard sales job.”

“There’s a lot of skepticism about this whole issue,” Hensley said.

The reorganization will move oversight of the state’s five hospitals for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled from SRS to the Department on Aging, along with other services for the disabled and mentally ill. The Department on Aging also will take over some regulatory functions from the health department.

It will become the Department on Aging and Disability Services. The health department will oversee Medicaid’s financial management, and SRS will become the Department of Children and Families.

SRS Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said that as part of its new, narrower focus, reorganized her department will seek to hire at least 20 additional social workers to help children in troubled families.

Colyer said: “The point of this is focus, and so what we’re trying to do is focus on core missions.”

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