Kansas nursing homes now have a COVID metric from the KDHE

Kansas nursing homes now have a metric for the coronavirus pandemic that is used to determine how often staff should be tested for COVID-19.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday displayed a tab with “nursing home metrics: 14-day percent positivity.” The statistics are connected to a rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, that requires routine testing of staff, depending on a community indicator.

“Routine testing should be based on the extent of the virus in the community, therefore facilities should use their county positivity rate in the prior week as the trigger for staff testing frequency,” David Wright, the director of the Quality and Safety Oversight Group, said in an Aug. 26 memo from the CMS.

Facilities in a county with low community activity, defined as a positive test rate below 5%, are required to test staff at least once a month. Residents are not included in the required routine testing.

Medium activity is between 5% and 10% while high activity is above 10%. Facilities in counties with medium activity must test at least once a week. That increases to twice a week for counties with high activity.

The rule is “aimed at preventing COVID-19 from entering nursing homes, detecting cases quickly, and stopping transmission,” Wright said. “Swift identification of confirmed COVID-19 cases allows the facility to take immediate action to remove exposure risks to nursing home residents and staff.”

The KDHE metric features a color-coded map of Kansas counties with the positive test rate for the 14-day period starting Sept. 13. Green represents low activity, yellow represents medium and red represents high. The Kansas metric also factors in low levels of testing compared to population, allowing some counties to stay in the green or yellow zone even if

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Kansas replacing contractor handling Medicaid applications

Kansas is replacing a private contractor that inspired years of complaints about backlogs and other problems in its handling of applications for the state’s Medicaid health coverage for the needy.

The state Department of Health and Environment in August signed a six-year contract worth nearly $135 million with New Jersey-based company Conduent to handle Medicaid applications starting next year, The Kansas City Star reports. Conduent will replace Maximus, based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration hired Maximus in 2016, hoping to make processing Medicaid applications more efficient and less costly. The company instead received poor marks for its processing and customer-service call center. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly last year announced plans to hire 300 new state workers to take over the most complicated applications.

Maximus referred calls about the decision to the state health department.

Conduent has had its own troubles, including a lawsuit alleging Medicaid fraud for overbilling dentists in Texas. It was settled last year, and the company said it involved allegations that arose under previous owners.

Conduent operates in all 50 states and 22 countries, according to the bid it submitted to Kansas officials. It supplies Medicaid processing and customer service for 17 states, including Missouri.

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Kansas replaces troubled Medicaid contractor notorious for backlogs, lost documents

After years of complaints about backlogs and mishandled Medicaid applications, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is parting ways with Maximus, the private for-profit company that administered the KanCare clearinghouse.

One of the firms hired by former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to bring lower costs and private sector efficiency to state government, Maximus instead got poor marks for processing applications and operating KanCare’s customer service call center.

Nursing homes, which rely heavily on Medicaid reimbursements, reported financial struggles as the number of seniors covered by the federal-state health insurance program dropped despite an increasing elderly population. In 2019, Governor Laura Kelly announced plans to hire 300 state workers to take the most complex Medicaid applications away from Maximus.

Instead of bringing the entire Medicaid screening operation back in-house, Kansas has hired another private contractor beginning next year. The New Jersey-based Conduent has had its own troubles. Among them was a lawsuit alleging Medicaid fraud for overbilling dentists in Texas. It was settled last year.

Maximus referred all questions to KDHE.

In a statement to The Star, Conduent touted its experience in other states.

“We bring operational excellence and innovative technology solutions, as well as strong nationwide expertise,” the statement said. “We help our state agency partners adapt to challenges such as policy changes and transitions to new capabilities and solutions, while maintaining high-quality customer service.”

Before Maximus was brought to Kansas, Medicaid applications were handled by state employees. A KDHE spokeswoman said the agency considered discontinuing the outsourcing of Medicaid eligibility, but decided it was not financially feasible.

Lawmakers, attorneys and advocates expressed cautious optimism about the change. Though many predicted continued struggles during a transition and a desire to return to the “good old days” before private business was engaged in the Medicaid application process.


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