Beshear calls for transparency as Bevin and feds work on Medicaid changes and stakeholders prepare to meet Thursday

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Former Gov. Steve Beshear sent an open letter to Gov. Matt Bevin and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell May 9, accusing his Republican successor and President Obama’s appointee of working “in secret” and with “no public input of any kind” to change the Medicaid program that Beshear expanded under Obama’s reforms.

“On behalf of all who care about the health of Kentuckians, we demand the Bevin and Obama administrations pull back the curtain, stop the back-room deals, and allow for full disclosure and transparency throughout the development of this Medicaid waiver proposal that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, and the future of the entire commonwealth,” Beshear wrote.

Beshear asked Bevin to release the details of his plan before Thursday, May 12, when the Foundation for a Health Kentucky is scheduled to host a stakeholders’ meeting to discuss what they would like to see in the plan. He also asked Burwell to “demand” that Bevin provide details of the plan before any “formal or informal” decisions are made.

“This meeting of stakeholders should mark the beginning of the the process to solicit input from as many Kentuckians as possible, and the Bevin administration must create future opportunities for other interested stakeholders to weigh in before taking any next steps in the process,” he wrote.

Bevin’s office declined to comment, but told Kentucky Health News that stakeholder meetings have occurred and more formal ones are in the works. Bevin has said that he wants to announce his plan this summer.

According to the website on the type of waiver Kentucky is seeking, states are required to post their proposed plans for a 30-day comment period before sending them to the federal government. Once the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services accepts the application, it is required to post the proposal for another 30-day comment period.

Under federal health reform, Beshear expanded Medicaid to Kentuckians with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, adding about 400,000 people. The federal government pays for this expanded population through this year, but next year the state will be responsible for 5 percent of the expansion, rising in annual steps to the reform law’s limit of 10 percent in 2020.

Bevin told reporters in early May that he had “gone to the mat” with federal officials but remains optimistic they will agree. “If it does not happen it will be because CMS does not want to see expanded Medicaid continue in Kentucky,” he said.

Burwell’s press secretary, Ben Wakana, “indicated any changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid plan should not weaken it,” Deborah Yetter reports for The Courier-Journal. Wakana told her, “Kentucky’s
Medicaid expansion has led to one of the biggest reductions of
uninsured people in America, and any changes to the program should
maintain or build on the historic improvements Kentucky has seen in
access to coverage, access to care and financial security.”

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Bevin has said many times that the state can’t afford its Medicaid population. He appointed Mark Birdwhistell, a University of Kentucky health executive and former state health secretary, in December to help his administration design a new Medicaid program.

Since then, no details have been released, but Bevin has said Kentucky’s revised program should require its members to have “skin in the game” and that the state cannot continue to pay for the health insurance of “able-bodied adults.”

He has also referred to Indiana’s plan, which has monthly fees, co-payments and refers its participants to a work program, as a model for Kentucky. However, spokeswoman Jessica Ditto told Kentucky Health News in March that, “The Indiana model is just one of many models that we are looking at for influence in crafting a plan that is specifically tailored for the needs of Kentucky.”

Beshear said evidence suggests a move to a plan like Indiana’s will “lead to increased cost for enrollees, and less access to healthcare for the most vulnerable Kentuckians.”

He noted that “federal rules prohibit waivers for the sole purpose of saving money or shrinking the size of the program, both of which Gov. Bevin has publicly stated are his goals.” He suggested that it is “precisely these types of changes” that are in the proposal, and calls again for “public review and debate.” In addition, he calls for CMS to not approve changes that “would leave beneficiaries worse off than they are under a state’s existing Medicaid program.”

Beshear writes in conclusion, “Transparency, openness and honest conversation with the people of Kentucky is not only the right thing to do on such a critical decision, the people demand it.”

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