Tuesday, March 25, 2014

House passes bill for creating multi-state compact

By DAVE RANNEY, KHI News Service 

TOPEKA, KAN. — The Kansas House today finalized its approval of a measure that would allow the state to join a multi-state compact designed to circumvent full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

House Bill 2553, which passed 74-48, now goes to the Senate.

“I think it has a strong likelihood of passing the Senate,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican and chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Pilcher-Cook, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, said the House-passed bill would not be heard in her committee.

“It’s too late,” in the legislative session, she said. “We don’t have any more meetings scheduled.”

But she said that she hoped Senate leadership would find a way to allow the chamber to vote on the bill yet this year.

If enacted, the compact would be allowed to petition Congress to allow its member states to each regulate Medicare, Medicaid, and other federally funded health care programs now overseen by the federal government.

HB 2553 does not indicate how Kansas might alter its health care programs.

Before the compact could to take effect, it would have to win approval in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Eight states already have passed bills in support of a health care compact: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, and Texas.

Kansas is one of 12 states known to be considering compact legislation.

There are about 400,000 Kansas Medicaid beneficiaries and about 448,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Together the two programs cost about $7.2 billion a year.

Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat who’s expected to run against Gov. Sam Brownback in the November general election, voted against HB 2553 on Monday.

“My primary concern is that this bill allows for the potential privatization of Medicare,” Davis told KHI News Service. “There are almost 450,000 Kansans on Medicare now and the vast majority of them, I believe, are happy with the way Medicare functions. I don’t think we ought to interfere with that.”

Also on Monday, AARP Kansas officials repeated their opposition to the proposal.

“It’s a frivolous bill,” said Ernie Kutzley, the organization’s advocacy director.

Kutzley said many legislators assume the compact won’t come together, especially if Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate.

“Long range, it looks like this couldn’t happen,” he said. “But our statement is ‘Why take a chance?’ It’s not a good idea for the folks we have on Medicare now or for those who are going to be on it in the future.”

The Kansas Chamber and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testified in favor of the legislation, saying it was needed to protect individual liberty and state sovereignty.