Kansas’ decision to finally replace Maximus, the contractor responsible for processing state Medicaid applications, is long overdue.
Brought on by the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback, Maximus had drawn frequent complaints over delays and other problems. Or as the Associated Press described it: "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."
The state is now making a clean break. Beginning next year, it will use a New Jersey-based company called Conduent to handle the applications.
This is good news for several reasons. First, poor service from those contracting with the state shouldn’t be tolerated. Taxpayers were, in essence, footing the bill for Maximus. If it fell short of the standards expected, its contract should be ended. Companies should have an opportunity to improve their performance, of course, but if that doesn’t happen the state should move on.
Second, we are living through an exceptionally difficult time. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turbulence that followed have created both new health costs and a larger pool of folks without jobs or income. Medicaid — also known as KanCare — is a crucial way to keep our fellow Kansans healthy.
Finally, improving the program should make it clear how much the state as a whole stands to gain from expanding Medicaid. Majorities of voters and lawmakers support the more robust program. But opponents, besides appealing to sheer ideology, could also point to problems in the current program to explain their opposition.
"Fix the current program," they would say. And now that’s being done.
Too often, arguments against strengthening public programs are made in bad faith. Anti-government extremists have little interest in seeing them run well or efficiently, because it would suggest that the programs should help even more people. So deals are struck, operations are outsourced, and people suffer. That suffering is then used as an excuse to reduce or limit the programs further.
So congratulations to Gov. Laura Kelly and her staff for not falling into this self-defeating cycle. If we are to create a Kansas that helps everyone succeed, such programs as KanCare must be easy to use and as helpful to as many people as possible.