As Johnson County senior population grows sharply, agencies worry about access to services under KanCare

Photo credit Lisa Edmonds. (Used under a Creative Commons license).

A group of 11 agencies focused on providing services to senior citizens in the state is raising concerns that aging Kansans have not done well since the switch to the KanCare system in 2010 — and the issues appear particularly pronounced here in Johnson County.

The Kansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities, which represents 11 regional agencies on aging, delivered a report to the legislature suggesting that seniors have fared poorly since implementation of KanCare, which switched management of Medicaid patients’ services directly from state agencies to three private managed care organizations contracted by the state.

Among the services seniors could receive under KanCare are nursing home care or in-home attendant care.

Dan Goodman, Johnson County Area Agency on Aging Director and President of Kansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities, said the group had not had access to data on service levels provided to seniors for the first several years of the program. When the data was released recently, he said, it backed up what the agencies had seen anecdotally for the past several years under KanCare: the number of seniors receiving services has decreased significantly.

“What we always thought was true,” Goodman said. “And when they put it on paper, it was pretty obvious.”

The data show that since KanCare implementation in 2010, the number of seniors receiving Home and Community Based Services under KanCare has dropped by more than 1,000. That decrease is particularly striking given the rapid growth in the number of Kansans aged 65 and older.

Johnson County, for example, had 72,681 senior residents in 2014. That number is projected to grow to 94,901 by next year, and 120,813 by 2024. By 2029, the number of Johnson County residents aged 65 and over will have more than doubled since 2014.

“When you look at the graphs on people receiving services against the number of seniors we have, you’re seeing a growing gap,” Goodman said. “Instead of squeezing the gap, which is what we would want, you’re seeing it widening.”

Goodman said he and other agency leaders believe much of reduced enrollment issue can be attributed to the centralization of KanCare application processing in Topeka. Prior to KanCare implementation, seniors applying for Medicaid services would have access to a local case manager and application expert who could help them fill out the paperwork for services and ensure that they continued to receive care.

Applying for KanCare services is a complicated process, Goodman noted, and it can be easy for seniors to get frustrated and stop trying to apply if they make a mistake and get rejected. The restoration of local case managers or application navigators would help increase enrollment.

“We know KanCare is here, and we’re not advocating for it to go away,” Goodman said. “But there are some changes that would make it a lot better for seniors. It truly is an access issue. And Kansas could do better.”