There might be no better single encapsulation of the nearly decade-long failure of Kansas government than the story that broke last week about an email address in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
From August 2017 to January, emails sent to the Medicaid inspector general went unread.
As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter reported, “Among emails received during that 18-month period ... 95 alleged or sought information on reporting misconduct involving Medicaid, MediKan and SCHIP programs. Forty-two of the 95 emails contained information substantiated in whole or part once evaluated by the state.”
The inspector general’s office was originally in KDHE, but former Gov. Sam Brownback decided not to staff the office from 2014 until his departure. A frustrated Legislature moved the office to Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s department, and Sarah Fertig was finally confirmed at the beginning of this year.
Why the gap? It turned out that the employee who monitored the email (for the unstaffed office) left in 2017, and no one picked up the slack.
The frustrating part about this story is that it’s not about partisanship. The emails sent to the office were largely about Medicaid fraud. The GOP has traditionally been keenly interested in fraud and waste found in government programs. But the former governor’s reluctance to keep state government functioning efficiently meant that even commonsense oversight didn’t happen.
Think about it. For a full year-and-a-half, folks with tips about others who were gaming the system went unread. Who knows how much money or how many resources might have been saved if anyone had simply paid attention? And who knows how many other folks poorly served by KanCare might have benefited from these resources instead?
Whether run by a Republican or Democratic governor, state offices need to run. A conservative or liberal program needs staff and funding to make sure it operates properly. Without these resources, you simply have a full-scale breakdown in functioning government.
That’s not ideological. It’s malpractice.
Legislators are saying the right things now. Wichita Republican Sen. Gene Suellentrop said: “This will certainly be a significant topic on the agenda. There needs to be substantial improvement.”
Wichita Democratic Rep. John Carmichael said it was “a classic example of nobody attending to the store. The magnitude of the neglect comes as a surprise.”
That’s well and good. But as we move forward, lawmakers should look to ensure that such basic oversights can’t happen again.