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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Brownback under fire for rejecting health care grant

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau

Gov. Sam Brownback has come under fire from Democrats and some Republicans ever since his administration rejected a $31.5 million federal "early innovator" grant for health care reform that it had earlier voiced support for.

A woman from Wichita submitted a petition last week with more than 3,000 signatures protesting rejection of the grant. Like other petitions, it will be analyzed to see if those signing are Kansans. Then a report about the petition and its signers will be forwarded to the governor and his constituent services staff will prepare a response.

Brownback's administration has said there were too many strings attached to the grant, which was supposed to fund the creation and implementation of an online health insurance exchange where consumers could compare and purchase policies.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday reiterated that, telling the joint legislative committee on health policy oversight that the administration would make no moves toward the exchange until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which he referred to as Obamacare.

Under federal law, states must set up an insurance exchange by 2014 or the federal government will create one for them. It's unclear when the Supreme Court might hear a case on the act.

Colyer held up a stack of papers written in 8-point font that he said are the preliminary rules and regulations accompanying the grant. Among requirements were several notifications employers would have to send to their employees and a clause that he said would essentially make the state responsible for accounts payable a year ahead of when it would otherwise be required to do so.

He also cited part of the rules that he said means the health care exchange would determine whether procedures for a person who could die are "inappropriate or too costly."

"That troubles me greatly," he said.

Asked about the clause later, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said she hadn't seen that.

"I can guarantee you that there are no death panels in the federal law," she said.

Praeger said the Department of Health and Human Services, led by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, has been flexible with the state and seems inclined to accept whatever changes the state wants.

Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said Kansas had a chance to "get in on the ground floor" with the grant and create something that works best for the state.

"I'm disturbed that we turned those back," he said of the grant money. "It seemed like a rather huge opportunity to take a pass on."

The state is using federal grant money to pay for another project, the Kansas Eligibility and Enforcement System, designed to link multiple state databases together to quickly root out fraud and determine whether someone qualifies for various state benefits.

That system doesn't require the state to create an exchange. But it would work with the exchange if one is created.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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