Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lt. Gov. Colyer says Republicans may use budget reconciliation to overturn federal health care law

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — As a state official on Monday revealed a new way to try to kill the federal health care law, health care advocates were encouraging the state to go in the opposite direction and work toward implementing the reforms.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said Republicans will try to use a Senate rule called reconciliation to overturn President Barack Obama's health care law.

"You can do it through reconciliation because it's a tax," Colyer told the Lawrence Journal-World before a news event marking the reorganization of two state agencies.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold penalties on citizens who fail to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In the decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said the penalties fell under Congress' right to impose taxes.

Brownback and Colyer, both Republicans and ardent opponents of the federal law, said Kansas would not act on advancing that law in Kansas because presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, if elected, has vowed to repeal it.

Many supporters of the Affordable Care Act, however, have said even if Romney wins election he would be unable to repeal the law without a super majority of Republicans in the Senate.

Senate rules generally require 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to break filibusters and take up legislation. But Senate rules also allow a fast track procedure called budget reconciliation to consider some tax and spending bills with a 51-vote majority. Republicans currently hold 47 Senate seats and hope to pick up several more in the November general election.

Meanwhile, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, one of the few Republicans in the country to voice support for the health care overhaul said Kansas should implement a key provision, which would establish exchanges to help consumers buy health insurance.

The clock is ticking," said Praeger at a forum put on by the Kansas Health Institute.

The exchanges would provide a website where consumers could compare and shop for health insurance plans. Last year, Brownback returned a $31.5 million federal grant to assist the state in setting up the exchange. States have until 2014 to set up exchanges.

Praeger and Jay Angoff, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said it would be better for Kansas to set up its own exchange so that it could tailor the system to Kansas' needs.

And last week, HHS announced 10 more opportunities for states to apply for funding to establish an exchange.

"It's a significant giving up of state authority if we don't move forward," Praeger said.

But Colyer said the Brownback administration still intends to await the results of the presidential election.