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Dave Wilson: Compact bill puts Medicare at risk

  • Published Sunday, April 6, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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One of the most frivolous and dangerous legislative measures has been approved by the Kansas House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The health care compact bill puts seniors, Kansans with disabilities, veterans and children at risk.

House Bill 2553 would give the state all of the federal health care funding for Medicare, Medicaid and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program and other health care programs, and allow the state to determine how those funds would be spent and how those programs would operate. It is important to note that retired veterans would also be affected because most fully retired veterans who are 65 and older get their health care via Medicare with Tricare as a supplemental. So if you bring Medicare into the compact, you bring veterans’ retirement health care in as well.

Medicare is one of the most popular federal programs in the country. A Harris Poll released in 2012 found that 88 percent of those surveyed supported Medicare. It would be a serious mistake to turn this program over to the state.

Since 1965, Medicare beneficiaries have received guaranteed benefits and protections, and have never once had to worry about their Medicare. In fact, over the years their Medicare has been improved.

For example, in 2013 about 40,480 Kansas residents on Medicare saved more than $32 million on their prescription drugs, thanks to the closing of the “doughnut hole” for prescriptions under the Affordable Care Act. By joining a health care compact, seniors could find themselves losing these kinds of savings and being thrown into a whole new health care system.

Medicare recipients make up about 16 percent of the total Kansas population. Why risk the health care and security of the more than 448,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Kansas?

So many questions come to mind about how a compact would work, and there are so few answers. Who would be responsible for the state’s Medicare funds? Won’t this make it more difficult to recruit doctors?

Will the state cut benefits below what the federal government now provides? What will happen if more funding is needed for Medicaid?

Will those dollars come from the almost 450,000 Medicare recipients in Kansas? Is Kansas really willing to take on health care services to almost half a million more people, especially when many wish to reduce the size of government?

What Kansas legislators are doing is asking the people of Kansas to buy a pig in a poke with the promise that if Congress agrees to provide the funding, then Kansas can re-create a system that is already in place and working. Though I believe there are many things that we in Kansas do better than other states and other governments, I am not sure we should create a whole new level of bureaucracy just to see if we can do better with Medicare.

HB 2553 will jeopardize security, choice and benefits for seniors, including veterans and people with disabilities, who rely on the Medicare program for their health care coverage. This bill is scary because it carries with it effects and consequences for all Kansans who rely on federal laws to protect their health care.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the compact bill, Kansas citizens could lose many rights and protections they don’t even realize are in danger.

Dave Wilson of Overland Park is an AARP advocacy volunteer and past volunteer president for AARP Kansas.

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