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Eagle editorial: Health care compact bill a mistake

  • Published Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Whether the health care compact bill is a legitimate escape hatch from the Affordable Care Act, a measure putting Kansans’ Medicare coverage at risk or simply benign Obama-bashing, the Kansas House shouldn’t have passed it Monday.

“It allows Kansas to get out of the one-size-fits-all Obamacare mandates,” tweeted Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, after Monday’s 74-48 vote approving House Bill 2553.

Except that it doesn’t. About the only thing clear about the compact bill is that it does nothing without a congressional blessing, which is dependent on the GOP taking filibuster-proof control of the Senate in November.

And there is confusion about what it would mean for Kansas in the unlikely event that a multistate health care compact actually won favor on Capitol Hill.

Proponents say the bill adds Kansas to the member states seeking to exempt themselves from the ACA while retaining federal health care dollars. The states would better control how those dollars are spent, they say.

But what about the 450,000 Kansans who are on Medicare, which is not subject to state decisions and control but apparently would be under the compact? Who among them wants to see the health care coverage they enjoy under this proven and popular program newly at the mercy of the Legislature and governor?

“It could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on,” Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger warned last month. She foresees that state leaders strapped for cash might divert federal funds meant for Medicare and other health programs to other parts of the budget, similar to what they’ve done with transportation dollars.

Presented with such a compelling argument from the state’s top insurance official, the House surely should have opted at least to play it safe by passing the amendment offered Friday by Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, to explicitly exclude Medicare from the bill. Yet the amendment failed 61-57 – leaving Kansans to wonder whether conservative lawmakers really do have in mind to meddle with Medicare.

It’s also doubtful that many of the Kansans with disabilities now dealing with KanCare, the Brownback administration’s bumpy privatization of Medicaid in the state, would endorse the bill’s sweeping new state-level powers to “suspend” and control health programs now governed by federal laws and regulations.

Irresponsibly, House passage also came despite the lack of any estimate of how much a health care compact’s implementation would cost the state.

As Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, warned in vain Monday, “These programs would significantly increase the size and scope of state government.”

There were plenty of reasons for the House to have said “no” to the bill, which also happens to be another piece of legislation written by a special-interest group outside of the state. Now the Senate should stay away from it.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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